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Title: The True George Washington [10th Ed.]

Author: Paul Leicester Ford

Release date: May 1, 2004 [eBook #12300]
Most recently updated: January 23, 2022

Language: English

Credits: John R. Bilderback and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team


The True George Washington

by Paul Leicester Ford

Author of “The Honorable Peter Stirling”
Editor of “The Writings of Thomas Jefferson” and
“The Sayings of Poor Richard”

“That I have foibles, and perhaps many of them, I shall not deny. I should esteem myself, as the world would, vain and empty, were I to arrogate perfection.”

“Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.”


Tenth Edition

Electrotyped and Printed by J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, U.S.A.





List of Illustrations with Notes

Painted for Washington in 1795, and presented by him to Nelly (Calvert) Stuart, widow of John Parke Custis, Washington’s adopted son. Her son George Washington Parke Custis, in whose presence the sittings were made, often spoke of the likeness as “almost perfect.”

The injury of the effigy of Laurence Washington and the entire disappearance of the effigy of Amee antedate the early part of the present century, and probably were done in the Puritan period. Since the above tracing was made the brasses of the eleven children have been stolen, leaving nothing but the lettering and the shield of the Washington arms.

Painted about 1750, and erroneously alleged to be by Copley. Original in the possession of Mr. R. Byrd Lewis, of Marmion, Virginia.

Original in the possession of General G.W. Custis Lee, of Lexington, Virginia.

From the miniature by Gilbert Stuart, in the possession of her grandson, Edward Parke Lewis Custis, of Hoboken, New Jersey.

The lettering reads, “Done from an original Drawn from the Life, by Alex’r Campbell of Williamsburg in Virginia. Published as the act directs 9 Sept’r 1775 by C. Shepherd.” It is the first engraved portrait of Washington, and was issued to satisfy the English curiosity concerning the new commander-in-chief of the rebels. From the original print in the possession of Mr. W.F. Havemeyer, of New York.

The sheet from which Washington modelled his handwriting, and to which his earliest script shows a marked resemblance. From the original in the possession of the author.

Showing changes and corrections made by Washington at a later date. From original copy-book in the Washington MSS. in the Department of State.

From the original formerly in the possession of Mr. Frederick Philipse.

Alleged to have been painted by Woolaston about 1757. It has been asserted by Mr. L.W. Washington and Mr. Moncure D. Conway that this is a portrait of Betty Washington Lewis, but in this they are wholly in error, as proof exists that it is a portrait of Mrs. Washington before her second marriage.

Made by Washington as a boy, and one of the earliest specimens of his work. The small drawing of the house represents it as it was before Washington enlarged it, and is the only picture of it known. Original in the Department of State.

From the original in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Painted by Edward Savage about 1795, and issued as a large engraving in 1798. The original picture is now in the possession of Mr. William F. Havemeyer, of New York.

The official invitation while President, from the original in the possession of the author.

This gives only the first few names, many more following. The original was formerly in the possession of Mr. Thomas Biddle, of Philadelphia.

This is a slight variation from the true Washington coat of arms, the changes being introduced by Washington. From the original in the possession of the author.

Washington’s birthplace. The survey was made in 1743, on the property coming into the possession of Augustine Washington (second) from his father, with the object of readjusting the boundary-lines. Original in the possession of Mr. William F. Havemeyer, of New York.

This record, with the exception of the interlined note concerning Betty Washington Lewis, is in the handwriting of George Washington, and was written when he was about sixteen years old. Original in the possession of Mrs. Lewis Washington, of Charlestown, West Virginia.

By an unknown artist. From the original in the possession of General G.W. Custis Lee, of Lexington, Virginia.

On a fly-leaf of the volume to which this title belongs is written, “This autograph of Genl. Washington’s name is believed to be the earliest specimen of his writing, when he was probably not more than 8 or 9 years of age.” This is a note by G.C. Washington, to whom Washington’s library descended. Original in the possession of the Boston Athenaeum.

First page of Washington’s boyish transcript, written when he was about thirteen years of age. Used here by courtesy of Mr. S.M. Hamilton and “Public Opinion,” who are preparing a fac-simile edition of the entire rules.

Taken by Houdon in October, 1785. From the replica in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Of this first edition but two copies are known. From the original in the Lenox Library.

Philadelphia offered to furnish the house for the President during the time Congress sat in that city, but Washington “wholly declined living in any public building,” and rented this house from Robert Morris. Though it was considered one of the finest in the city, Washington several times complained of being cramped.

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In every country boasting a history there may be observed a tendency to make its leaders or great men superhuman. Whether we turn to the legends of the East, the folk-lore of Europe, or the traditions of the native races of America, we find a mythology based upon the acts of man gifted with superhuman powers. In the unscientific, primeval periods in which these beliefs were born and elaborated into oral and written form, their origin is not surprising. But to all who have studied the creation of a mythology, no phase is a more curious one than that the keen, practical American of to-day should engage in the same process of hero-building which has given us Jupiter, Wotan, King Arthur, and others. By a slow evolution we have well-nigh discarded from the lives of our greatest men of the past all human faults and feelings; have enclosed their greatness in glass of the clearest crystal, and hung up a sign, “Do not touch.” Indeed, with such characters as Washington, Franklin, and Lincoln we have practically adopted the English maxim that “the king can do no wrong.” In place of men, limited by human limits, and influenced by human passions, we have demi-gods, so stripped of human characteristics as to make us question even whether they deserve much credit for their sacrifices and deeds.

But with this process of canonization have we not lost more than we have gained, both in example and in interest? Many, no doubt, with the greatest veneration for our first citizen, have sympathized with the view expressed by Mark Twain, when he said that he was a greater man than Washington, for the latter “couldn’t tell a lie, while he could, but wouldn’t” We have endless biographies of Franklin, picturing him in all the public stations of life, but all together they do not equal in popularity his own human autobiography, in which we see him walking down Market Street with a roll under each arm, and devouring a third. And so it seems as if the time had come to put the shadow-boxes of humanity round our historic portraits, not because they are ornamental in themselves, but because they will make them examples, not mere idols.

If the present work succeeds in humanizing Washington, and making him a man rather than a historical figure, its purpose will have been fulfilled. In the attempt to accomplish this, Washington has, so far as is possible, been made to speak for himself, even though at times it has compelled the sacrifice of literary form, in the hope that his own words would convey a greater sense of the personality of the man. So, too, liberal drafts have been made on the opinions and statements of his contemporaries; but, unless the contrary is stated or is obvious, all quoted matter is from Washington’s own pen. It is with pleasure that the author adds that the result of his study has only served to make Washington the greater to him.

The writer is under the greatest obligation to his brother, Worthington Chauncey Ford, not merely for his numerous books on Washington, of which his “Writings of George Washington” is easily first in importance of all works relating to the great American, but also for much manuscript material which he has placed at the author’s service. Hitherto unpublished facts have been drawn from many other sources, but notably from the rich collection of Mr. William F. Havemeyer, of New York, from the Department of State in Washington, and from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. To Mr. S.M. Hamilton, of the former institution, and to Mr. Frederick D. Stone, of the latter, the writer is particularly indebted for assistance.



Although Washington wrote that the history of his ancestors was, in his opinion, “of very little moment,” and “a subject to which I confess I have paid very little attention,” few Americans can prove a better pedigree. The earliest of his forebears yet discovered was described as “gentleman,” the family were granted lands by Henry the Eighth, held various offices of honor, married into good families, and under the Stuarts two were knighted and a third served as page to Prince Charles. Lawrence, a brother of the three thus distinguished, matriculated at Oxford as a “generosi filius” (the intermediate class between sons of the nobility, “armigeri filius,” and of the people, “plebeii filius”), or as of the minor gentry. In time he became a fellow and lector of Brasenose College, and presently obtained the good living of Purleigh. Strong royalists, the fortunes of the family waned along with King Charles, and sank into insignificance with the passing of the Stuart dynasty. Not the least sufferer was the rector of Purleigh, for the Puritan Parliament ejected him from his living, on the charge “that he was a common frequenter of ale-houses, not only himself sitting dayly tippling there … but hath oft been drunk,”—a charge indignantly denied by the royalists, who asserted that he was a “worthy Pious man, … always … a very Modest, Sober Person;” and this latter claim is supported by the fact that though the Puritans sequestered the rich living, they made no objection to his serving as rector at Brixted Parva, where the living was “such a Poor and Miserable one that it was always with difficulty that any one was persuaded to accept of it.”

Poverty resulting, John, the eldest son of this rector, early took to the sea, and in 1656 assisted “as second man in Sayleing ye Vessel to Virginia.” Here he settled, took up land, presently became a county officer, a burgess, and a colonel of militia. In this latter function he commanded the Virginia troops during the Indian war of 1675, and when his great-grandson, George, on his first arrival on the frontier, was called by the Indians “Conotocarius,” or “devourer of villages,” the formidable but inappropriate title for the newly-fledged officer is supposed to have been due to the reputation that John Washington had won for his name among the Indians eighty years before.

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Both John’s son, Lawrence, and Lawrence’s son, Augustine, describe themselves in their wills as “gentlemen,” and both intermarried with the “gentry families” of Virginia. Augustine was educated at Appleby School, in England, like his grandfather followed the sea for a time, was interested in iron mines, and in other ways proved himself far more than the average Virginia planter of his day. He was twice married,—which marriages, with unconscious humor, he describes in his will as “several Ventures,”—had ten children, and died in 1743, when George, his fifth child and the first by his second “Venture,” was a boy of eleven. The father thus took little part in the life of the lad, and almost the only mention of him by his son still extant is the one recorded in Washington’s round school-boy hand in the family Bible, to the effect that “Augustine Washington and Mary Ball was Married the Sixth of March 17-30/31. Augustine Washington Departed this Life ye 12th Day of April 1743, Aged 49 Years.”

The mother, Mary Washington, was more of a factor, though chiefly by mere length of life, for she lived to be eighty-three, and died but ten years before her son. That Washington owed his personal appearance to the Balls is true, but otherwise the sentimentality that has been lavished about the relations between the two and her influence upon him, partakes of fiction rather than of truth. After his father’s death the boy passed most of his time at the homes of his two elder brothers, and this was fortunate, for they were educated men, of some colonial consequence, while his mother lived in comparatively straitened circumstances, was illiterate and untidy, and, moreover, if tradition is to be believed, smoked a pipe. Her course with the lad was blamed by a contemporary as “fond and unthinking,” and this is borne out by such facts as can be gleaned, for when his brothers wished to send him to sea she made “trifling objections,” and prevented his taking what they thought an advantageous opening; when the brilliant offer of a position on Braddock’s staff was tendered to Washington, his mother, “alarmed at the report,” hurried to Mount Vernon and endeavored to prevent him from accepting it; still again, after Braddock’s defeat, she so wearied her son with pleas not to risk the dangers of another campaign that Washington finally wrote her, “It would reflect dishonor upon me to refuse; and that, I am sure, must or ought to give you greater uneasiness, than my going in an honorable command.” After he inherited Mount Vernon the two seem to have seen little of each other, though, when occasion took him near Fredericksburg, he usually stopped to see her for a few hours, or even for a night.

Though Washington always wrote to his mother as “Honored Madam,” and signed himself “your dutiful and aff. son,” she none the less tried him not a little. He never claimed from her a part of the share of his father’s estate which was his due on becoming of age, and, in addition, “a year or two before I left Virginia (to make her latter days comfortable and free from care) I did, at her request, but at my own expence, purchase a commodious house, garden and Lotts (of her own choosing) in Fredericksburg, that she might be near my sister Lewis, her only daughter,—and did moreover agree to take her land and negroes at a certain yearly rent, to be fixed by Colo Lewis and others (of her own nomination) which has been an annual expence to me ever since, as the estate never raised one half the rent I was to pay. Before I left Virginia I answered all her calls for money; and since that period have directed my steward to do the same.” Furthermore, he gave her a phaeton, and when she complained of her want of comfort he wrote her, “My house is at your service, and [I] would press you most sincerely and most devoutly to accept it, but I am sure, and candor requires me to say, it will never answer your purposes in any shape whatsoever. For in truth it may be compared to a well resorted tavern, as scarcely any strangers who are going from north to south, or from south to north, do not spend a day or two at it. This would, were you to be an inhabitant of it, oblige you to do one of 3 things: 1st, to be always dressing to appear in company; 2d, to come into [the room] in a dishabille, or 3d to be as it were a prisoner in your own chamber. The first you’ld not like; indeed, for a person at your time of life it would be too fatiguing. The 2d, I should not like, because those who resort here are, as I observed before, strangers and people of the first distinction. And the 3d, more than probably, would not be pleasing to either of us.”

Under these circumstances it was with real indignation that Washington learned that complaints of hers that she “never lived soe poore in all my life” were so well known that there was a project to grant her a pension. The pain this caused a man who always showed such intense dislike to taking even money earned from public coffers, and who refused everything in the nature of a gift, can easily be understood. He at once wrote a letter to a friend in the Virginia Assembly, in which, after reciting enough of what he had done for her to prove that she was under no necessity of a pension,—“or, in other words, receiving charity from the public,”—he continued, “But putting these things aside, which I could not avoid mentioning in exculpation of a presumptive want of duty on my part; confident I am that she has not a child that would not divide the last sixpence to relieve her from real distress. This she has been repeatedly assured of by me; and all of us, I am certain, would feel much hurt, at having our mother a pensioner, while we had the means of supporting her; but in fact she has an ample income of her own. I lament accordingly that your letter, which conveyed the first hint of this matter, did not come to my hands sooner; but I request, in pointed terms, if the matter is now in agitation in your Assembly, that all proceedings on it may be stopped, or in case of a decision in her favor, that it may be done away and repealed at my request.”

Still greater mortification was in store for him, when he was told that she was borrowing and accepting gifts from her neighbors, and learned “on good authority that she is, upon all occasions and in all companies, complaining … of her wants and difficulties; and if not in direct terms, at least by strong innuendoes, endeavors to excite a belief that times are much altered, &c., &c., which not only makes her appear in an unfavorable point of view, but those also who are connected with her.” To save her feelings he did not express the “pain” he felt to her, but he wrote a brother asking him to ascertain if there was the slightest basis in her complaints, and “see what is necessary to make her comfortable,” for “while I have anything I will part with it to make her so;” but begging him “at the same time … to represent to her in delicate terms, the impropriety of her complaints, and acceptance of favors, even when they are voluntarily offered, from any but relations.” Though he did not “touch upon this subject in a letter to her,” he was enough fretted to end the renting of her plantation, not because “I mean … to withhold any aid or support I can give from you; for whilst I have a shilling left, you shall have part,” but because “what I shall then give, I shall have credit for,” and not be “viewed as a delinquent, and considered perhaps by the world as [an] unjust and undutiful son.”

In the last years of her life a cancer developed, which she refused to have “dressed,” and over which, as her doctor wrote Washington, the “Old Lady” and he had “a small battle every day.” Once Washington was summoned by an express to her bedside “to bid, as I was prepared to expect, the last adieu to an honored parent,” but it was a false alarm. Her health was so bad, however, that just before he started to New York to be inaugurated he rode to Fredericksburg, “and took a final leave of my mother, never expecting to see her more,” a surmise that proved correct.

Only Elizabeth—or “Betty”—of Washington’s sisters grew to womanhood, and it is said that she was so strikingly like her brother that, disguised with a long cloak and a military hat, the difference between them was scarcely detectable. She married Fielding Lewis, and lived at “Kenmore House” on the Rappahannock, where Washington spent many a night, as did the Lewises at Mount Vernon. During the Revolution, while visiting there, she wrote her brother, “Oh, when will that day arrive when we shall meet again. Trust in the lord it will be soon,—till when, you have the prayers and kind wishes for your health and happiness of your loving and sincerely affectionate sister.” Her husband died “much indebted,” and from that time her brother gave her occasional sums of money, and helped her in other ways.

Her eldest son followed in his father’s footsteps, and displeased Washington with requests for loans. He angered him still more by conduct concerning which Washington wrote to him as follows:

“Sir, Your letter of the 11th of Octor. never came to my hands ’till yesterday. Altho’ your disrespectful conduct towards me, in coming into this country and spending weeks therein without ever coming near me, entitled you to very little notice or favor from me; yet I consent that you may get timber from off my Land in Fauquier County to build a house on your Lott in Rectertown. Having granted this, now let me ask you what your views were in purchasing a Lott in a place which, I presume, originated with and will end in two or three Gin shops, which probably will exist no longer than they serve to ruin the proprietors, and those who make the most frequent applications to them. I am, &c.”

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Other of the Lewis boys pleased him better, and he appointed one an officer in his own “Life Guard.” Of another he wrote, when President, to his sister, “If your son Howell is living with you, and not usefully employed in your own affairs, and should incline to spend a few months with me, as a writer in my office (if he is fit for it) I will allow him at the rate of three hundred dollars a year, provided he is diligent in discharging the duties of it from breakfast until dinner—Sundays excepted. This sum will be punctually paid him, and I am particular in declaring beforehand what I require, and what he may expect, that there may be no disappointment, or false expectations on either side. He will live in the family in the same manner his brother Robert did.” This Robert had been for some time one of his secretaries, and at another time was employed as a rent-collector.

Still another son, Lawrence, also served him in these dual capacities, and Washington, on his retirement from the Presidency, offered him a home at Mount Vernon. This led to a marriage with Mrs. Washington’s grandchild, Eleanor Custis, a match which so pleased Washington that he made arrangements for Lawrence to build on the Mount Vernon estate, in his will named him an executor, and left the couple a part of this property, as well as a portion of the residuary estate.

As already noted, much of Washington’s early life was passed at the homes of his elder (half-) brothers, Lawrence and Augustine, who lived respectively at Mount Vernon and Wakefield. When Lawrence developed consumption, George was his travelling companion in a trip to Barbadoes, and from him, when he died of that disease, in 1752, came the bequest of Mount Vernon to “my loveing brother George.” To Augustine, in the only letter now extant, Washington wrote, “The pleasure of your company at Mount Vernon always did, and always will afford me infinite satisfaction,” and signed himself “your most affectionate brother.” Surviving this brother, he left handsome bequests to all his children.

Samuel, the eldest of his own brothers, and his junior by but two years, though constantly corresponded with, was not a favorite. He seems to have had extravagant tendencies, variously indicated by five marriages, and by (perhaps as a consequence) pecuniary difficulties. In 1781, Washington wrote to another brother, “In God’s name how did my brother Samuel get himself so enormously in debt?” Very quickly requests for loans followed, than which nothing was more irritating to Washington. Yet, though he replied that it would be “very inconvenient” to him, his ledger shows that at least two thousand dollars were advanced, and in a letter to this brother, on the danger of borrowing at interest, Washington wrote, “I do not make these observations on account of the money I purpose to lend you, because all I shall require is that you return the net sum when in your power, without interest.” Better even than this, in his will Washington discharged the debt.

To the family of Samuel, Washington was equally helpful. For the eldest son he obtained an ensigncy, and “to save Thornton and you [Samuel] the expence of buying a horse to ride home on, I have lent him a mare.” Two other sons he assumed all the expenses of, and showed an almost fatherly interest in them. He placed them at school, and when the lads proved somewhat unruly he wrote them long admonitory letters, which became stern when actual misconduct ensued, and when one of them ran away to Mount Vernon to escape a whipping, Washington himself prepared “to correct him, but he begged so earnestly and promised so faithfully that there should be no cause for complaint in the future, that I have suspended punishment.” Later the two were sent to college, and in all cost Washington “near five thousand dollars.”

An even greater trouble was their sister Harriot, whose care was assumed in 1785, and who was a member of Washington’s household, with only a slight interruption, till her marriage in 1796. Her chief failing was “no disposition … to be careful of her cloathes,” which were “dabbed about in every hole and corner and her best things always in use,” so that Washington said “she costs me enough!” To her uncle she wrote on one occasion, “How shall I apologise to my dear and Honor’d for intruding on his goodness so soon again, but being sensible for your kindness to me which I shall ever remember with the most heartfelt gratitude induces me to make known my wants. I have not had a pair of stays since I first came here: if you could let me have a pair I should be very much obleiged to you, and also a hat and a few other articles. I hope my dear Uncle will not think me extravagant for really I take as much care of my cloaths as I possibly can.” Probably the expense that pleased him best in her case was that which he recorded in his ledger “By Miss Harriot Washington gave her to buy wedding clothes $100.”

His second and favorite brother, John Augustine, who was four years his junior, Washington described as “the intimate companion of my youth and the friend of my ripened age.” While the Virginia colonel was on the frontier, from 1754 to 1759, he left John in charge of all his business affairs, giving him a residence at and management of Mount Vernon. With this brother he constantly corresponded, addressing him as “Dear Jack,” and writing in the most intimate and affectionate terms, not merely to him, but when John had taken unto himself a wife, to her, and to “the little ones,” and signing himself “your loving brother.” Visits between the two were frequent, and invitations for the same still more so, and in one letter, written during the most trying moment of the Revolution, Washington said, “God grant you all health and happiness. Nothing in this world could contribute so to mine as to be fixed among you.” John died in 1787, and Washington wrote with simple but undisguised grief of the death of “my beloved brother.”

The eldest son of this brother, Bushrod, was his favorite nephew, and Washington took much interest in his career, getting the lad admitted to study law with Judge James Wilson, in Philadelphia, and taking genuine pride in him when he became a lawyer and judge of repute. He made this nephew his travelling companion in the Western journey of 1784, and at other times not merely sent him money, but wrote him letters of advice, dwelling on the dangers that beset young men, though confessing that he was himself “not such a Stoic” as to expect too much of youthful blood. To Bushrod, also, he appealed on legal matters, adding, “You may think me an unprofitable applicant in asking opinions and requiring services of you without dousing my money, but pay day may come,” and in this he was as good as his word, for in his will Washington left Bushrod, “partly in consideration of an intimation to his deceased father, while we were bachelors and he had kindly undertaken to superintend my Estates, during my military services in the former war between Great Britain and France, that if I should fall therein, Mt. Vernon … should become his property,” the home and “mansion-house farm,” one share of the residuary estate, his private papers, and his library, and named him an executor of the instrument.

Of Washington’s relations with his youngest brother, Charles, little can be learned. He was the last of his brothers to die, and Washington outlived him so short a time that he was named in his will, though only for a mere token of remembrance. “I add nothing to it because of the ample provision I have made for his issue.” Of the children so mentioned, Washington was particularly fond of George Augustine Washington. As a mere lad he used his influence to procure for him an ensigncy in a Virginia regiment, and an appointment on Lafayette’s staff. When in 1784 the young fellow was threatened with consumption, his uncle’s purse supplied him with the funds by which he was enabled to travel, even while Washington wrote, “Poor fellow! his pursuit after health is, I fear, altogether fruitless.” When better health came, and with it a renewal of a troth with a niece of Mrs. Washington’s, the marriage was made possible by Washington appointing the young fellow his manager, and not merely did it take place at Mount Vernon, but the young couple took up their home there. More than this, that their outlook might be “more stable and pleasing,” Washington promised them that on his death they should not be forgotten. When the disease again developed, Washington wrote his nephew in genuine anxiety, and ended his letter, “At all times and under all circumstances you and yours will possess my affectionate regards.” Only a few days later the news of his nephew’s death reached him, and he wrote his widow, “To you who so well know the affectionate regard I had for our departed friend, it is unnecessary to describe the sorrow with which I was afflicted at the news of his death.” He asked her and her children “to return to your old habitation at Mount Vernon. You can go to no place where you can be more welcome, nor to any where you can live at less expence and trouble,” an offer, he adds, “made to you with my whole heart.” Furthermore, Washington served as executor, assumed the expense of educating one of the sons, and in his will left the two children part of the Mount Vernon estate, as well as other bequests, “on account of the affection I had for, and the obligation I was under to their father when living, who from his youth attached himself to my person, and followed my fortunes through the vicissitudes of the late Revolution, afterwards devoting his time for many years whilst my public employments rendered it impracticable for me to do it myself, thereby affording me essential services and always performing them in a manner the most filial and respectful.”

Of his wife’s kith and kin Washington was equally fond. Both alone and with Mrs. Washington he often visited her mother, Mrs. Dandridge, and in 1773 he wrote to a brother-in-law that he wished “I was master of Arguments powerful enough to prevail upon Mrs. Dandridge to make this place her entire and absolute home. I should think as she lives a lonesome life (Betsey being married) it might suit her well, & be agreeable, both to herself & my Wife, to me most assuredly it would.” Washington was also a frequent visitor at “Eltham,” the home of Colonel Bassett, who had married his wife’s sister, and constantly corresponded with these relatives. He asked this whole family to be his guests at the Warm Springs, and, as this meant camping out in tents, he wrote, “You will have occasion to provide nothing, if I can be advised of your intentions, so that I may provide accordingly.” To another brother-in-law, Bartholomew Dandridge, he lent money, and forgave the debt to the widow in his will, also giving her the use during her life of the thirty-three negroes he had bid in at the bankruptcy sale of her husband’s property.

The pleasantest glimpses of family feeling are gained, however, in his relations with his wife’s children and grandchildren. John Parke and Martha Parke Custis—or “Jack” and “Patsey,” as he called them—were at the date of his marriage respectively six and four years of age, and in the first invoice of goods to be shipped to him from London after he had become their step-father, Washington ordered “10 shillings worth of Toys,” “6 little books for children beginning to read,” and “1 fashionable-dressed baby to cost 10 shillings.” When this latter shared the usual fate, he further wrote for “1 fashionable dress Doll to cost a guinea,” and for “A box of Gingerbread Toys & Sugar Images or Comfits.” A little later he ordered a Bible and Prayer-Book for each, “neatly bound in Turkey,” with names “in gilt letters on the inside of the cover,” followed ere long by an order for “1 very good Spinet” As Patsy grew to girlhood she developed fits, and “solely on her account to try (by the advice of her Physician) the effect of the waters on her Complaint,” Washington took the family over the mountains and camped at the “Warm Springs” in 1769, with “little benefit,” for, after ailing four years longer, “she was seized with one of her usual Fits & expired in it, in less than two minutes, without uttering a word, or groan, or scarce a sigh.” “The Sweet Innocent Girl,” Washington wrote, “entered into a more happy & peaceful abode than she has met with in the afflicted Path she has hitherto trod,” but none the less “it is an easier matter to conceive than to describe the distress of this family” at the loss of “dear Patsy Custis.”

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The care of Jack Custis was a worry to Washington in quite another way. As a lad, Custis signed his letters to him as “your most affectionate and dutiful son,” “yet I conceive,” Washington wrote, “there is much greater circumspection to be observed by a guardian than a natural parent.” Soon after assuming charge of the boy, a tutor was secured, who lived at Mount Vernon, but the boy showed little inclination to study, and when fourteen, Washington wrote that “his mind [is] … more turned … to Dogs, Horses and Guns, indeed upon Dress and equipage.” “Having his well being much at heart,” Washington wished to make him “fit for more useful purposes than [a] horse racer,” and so Jack was placed with a clergyman, who agreed to instruct him, and with him he lived, except for some home visits, for three years. Unfortunately, the lad, like the true Virginian planter of his day, had no taste for study, and had “a propensity for the [fair] sex.” After two or three flirtations, he engaged himself, without the knowledge of his mother or guardian, to Nellie Calvert, a match to which no objection could be made, except that, owing to his “youth and fickleness,” “he may either change and therefore injure the young lady; or that it may precipitate him into a marriage before, I am certain, he has ever bestowed a serious thought of the consequences; by which means his education is interrupted.” To avoid this danger, Washington took his ward to New York and entered him in King’s College, but the death of Patsy Custis put a termination to study, for Mrs. Washington could not bear to have the lad at such a distance, and Washington “did not care, as he is the last of the family, to push my opposition too far.” Accordingly, Jack returned to Virginia and promptly married.

The young couple were much at Mount Vernon from this time on, and Washington wrote to “Dear Jack,” “I am always pleased with yours and Nelly’s abidance at Mount Vernon.” When the winter snows made the siege of Boston purely passive, the couple journeyed with Mrs. Washington to Cambridge, and visited at head-quarters for some months. The arrival of children prevented the repetition of such visits, but frequent letters, which rarely failed to send love to “Nelly and the little girls,” were exchanged. The acceptance of command compelled Washington to resign the care of Custis’s estate, for which service “I have never charged him or his sister, from the day of my connexion with them to this hour, one farthing for all the trouble I have had in managing their estates, nor for any expense they have been to me, notwithstanding some hundreds of pounds would not reimburse the moneys I have actually paid in attending the public meetings in Williamsburg to collect their debts, and transact these several matters appertaining to the respective estates.” Washington, however, continued his advice as to its management, and in other letters advised him concerning his conduct when Custis was elected a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. In the siege of Yorktown Jack served as an officer of militia, and the exposure proved too much for him. Immediately after the surrender, news reached Washington of his serious illness, and by riding thirty miles in one day he succeeded in reaching Eltham in “time enough to see poor Mr. Custis breath his last,” leaving behind him “four lovely children, three girls and a boy.”

Owing to his public employment, Washington refused to be guardian for these “little ones,” writing “that it would be injurious to the children and madness in me, to undertake, as a principle, a trust which I could not discharge. Such aid, however, as it ever may be with me to give to the children especially the boy, I will afford with all my heart, and on this assurance you may rely.” Yet “from their earliest infancy” two of Jack’s children, George Washington Parke and Eleanor Parke Custis, lived at Mount Vernon, for, as Washington wrote in his will, “it has always been my intention, since my expectation of having issue has ceased, to consider the grandchildren of my wife in the same light as my own relations, and to act a friendly part by them.” Though the cares of war prevented his watching their property interests, his eight years’ absence could not make him forget them, and on his way to Annapolis, in 1783, to tender Congress his resignation, he spent sundry hours of his time in the purchase of gifts obviously intended to increase the joy of his homecoming to the family circle at Mount Vernon; set forth in his note-book as follows:

“By Sundries bot. in Phila.
A Locket£5  5
3 Small Pockt. Books1  10
3 Sashes1  5  0
Dress Cap2  8
Hatt3  10
Childrens Books4  6
Whirligig1  6
Fiddle2  6
Quadrille Boxes1  17  6.”

Indeed, in every way Washington showed how entirely he considered himself as a father, not merely speaking of them frequently as “the children,” but even alluding to himself in a letter to the boy as “your papa.” Both were much his companions during the Presidency. A frequent sight in New York and Philadelphia was Washington taking “exercise in the coach with Mrs. Washington and the two children,” and several times they were taken to the theatre and on picnics.

For Eleanor, or “Nelly,” who grew into a great beauty, Washington showed the utmost tenderness, and on occasion interfered to save her from her grandmother, who at moments was inclined to be severe, in one case to bring the storm upon himself. For her was bought a “Forte piano,” and later, at the cost of a thousand dollars, a very fine imported harpsichord, and one of Washington’s great pleasures was to have her play and sing to him. His ledger constantly shows gifts to her ranging from “The Wayworn traveller, a song for Miss Custis,” to “a pr. of gold eardrops” and a watch. The two corresponded. One letter from Washington merits quotation:

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“Let me touch a little now on your Georgetown ball, and happy, thrice happy, for the fair who assembled on the occasion, that there was a man to spare; for had there been 79 ladies and only 78 gentlemen, there might, in the course of the evening have been some disorder among the caps; notwithstanding the apathy which one of the company entertains for the ‘youth’ of the present day, and her determination ‘Never to give herself a moment’s uneasiness on account of any of them.’ A hint here; men and women feel the same inclinations towards each other now that they always have done, and which they will continue to do until there is a new order of things, and you, as others have done, may find, perhaps, that the passions of your sex are easier raised than allayed. Do not therefore boast too soon or too strongly of your insensibility to, or resistance of, its powers. In the composition of the human frame there is a good deal of inflammable matter, however dormant it may lie for a time, and like an intimate acquaintance of yours, when the torch is put to it, that which is within you may burst into a blaze; for which reason and especially too, as I have entered upon the chapter of advices, I will read you a lecture from this text.”

Not long after this was written, Nelly, as already mentioned, was married at Mount Vernon to Washington’s nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and in time became joint-owner with her husband of part of that place.

As early as 1785 a tutor was wanted for “little Washington,” as the lad was called, and Washington wrote to England to ask if some “worthy man of the cloth could not be obtained,” “for the boy is a remarkably fine one, and my intention is to give him a liberal education.” His training became part of the private secretary’s duty, both at Mount Vernon and New York and Philadelphia, but the lad inherited his father’s traits, and “from his infancy … discovered an almost unconquerable disposition to indolence.” This led to failures which gave Washington “extreme disquietude,” and in vain he “exhorted him in the most parental and friendly manner.” Custis would express “sorrow and repentance” and do no better. Successively he was sent to the College of Philadelphia, the College of New Jersey, and that at Annapolis, but from each he was expelled, or had to be withdrawn. Irritating as it must have been, his guardian never in his letters expressed anything but affection, shielded the lad from the anger of his step-father, and saw that he was properly supplied with money, of which he asked him to keep a careful account,—though this, as Washington wrote, was “not because I want to know how you spend your money.” After the last college failure a private tutor was once more engaged, but a very few weeks served to give Washington “a thorough conviction that it was in vain to keep Washington Custis to any literary pursuits, either in a public Seminary or at home,” and, as the next best thing, he procured him a cornetcy in the provisional army. Even here, balance was shown; for, out of compliment and friendship to Washington, “the Major Generals were desirous of placing him as lieutenant in the first instance; but his age considered, I thought it more eligible that he should enter into the lowest grade.”

In this connection one side of Washington’s course with his relations deserves especial notice. As early as 1756 he applied for a commission in the Virginia forces for his brother, and, as already shown, he placed several of his nephews and other connections in the Revolutionary or provisional armies. But he made clear distinction between military and civil appointments, and was very scrupulous about the latter. When his favorite nephew asked for a Federal appointment, Washington answered,—

“You cannot doubt my wishes to see you appointed to any office of honor or emolument in the new government, to the duties of which you are competent; but however deserving you may be of the one you have suggested, your standing at the bar would not justify my nomination of you as attorney to the Federal District Court in preference to some of the oldest and most esteemed general court lawyers in your State, who are desirous of this appointment. My political conduct in nominations, even if I were uninfluenced by principle, must be exceedingly circumspect and proof against just criticism; for the eyes of Argus are upon me, and no slip will pass unnoticed, that can be improved into a supposed partiality for friends or relations.”

And that in this policy he was consistent is shown by a letter of Jefferson, who wrote to an office-seeking relative, “The public will never be made to believe that an appointment of a relative is made on the ground of merit alone, uninfluenced by family views; nor can they ever see with approbation offices, the disposal of which they entrust to their Presidents for public purposes, divided out as family property. Mr. Adams degraded himself infinitely by his conduct on this subject, as Genl. Washington had done himself the greatest honor. With two such examples to proceed by, I should be doubly inexcusable to err.”

There were many other more distant relatives with whom pleasant relations were maintained, but enough has been said to indicate the intercourse. Frequent were the house-parties at Mount Vernon, and how unstinted hospitality was to kith and kin is shown by many entries in Washington’s diary, a single one of which will indicate the rest: “I set out for my return home—at which I arrived a little after noon—And found my Brother Jon Augustine his Wife; Daughter Milly, & Sons Bushrod & Corbin, & the Wife of the first. Mr. Willm Washington & his Wife and 4 Children.”

His will left bequests to forty-one of his own and his wife’s relations. “God left him childless that he might be the father of his country.”


Writing to his London tailor for clothes, in 1763, Washington directed him to “take measure of a gentleman who wares well-made cloaths of the following size: to wit, 6 feet high and proportionably made—if anything rather slender than thick, for a person of that highth, with pretty long arms and thighs. You will take care to make the breeches longer than those you sent me last, and I would have you keep the measure of the cloaths you now make, by you, and if any alteration is required in my next it shall be pointed out.” About this time, too, he ordered “6 pr. Man’s riding Gloves—rather large than the middle size,”… and several dozen pairs of stockings, “to be long, and tolerably large.”

The earliest known description of Washington was written in 1760 by his companion-in-arms and friend George Mercer, who attempted a “portraiture” in the following words: “He may be described as being as straight as an Indian, measuring six feet two inches in his stockings, and weighing 175 pounds when he took his seat in the House of Burgesses in 1759. His frame is padded with well-developed muscles, indicating great strength. His bones and joints are large, as are his feet and hands. He is wide shouldered, but has not a deep or round chest; is neat waisted, but is broad across the hips, and has rather long legs and arms. His head is well shaped though not large, but is gracefully poised on a superb neck. A large and straight rather than prominent nose; blue-gray penetrating eyes, which are widely separated and overhung by a heavy brow. His face is long rather than broad, with high round cheek bones, and terminates in a good firm chin. He has a clear though rather a colorless pale skin, which burns with the sun. A pleasing, benevolent, though a commanding countenance, dark brown hair, which he wears in a cue. His mouth is large and generally firmly closed, but which from time to time discloses some defective teeth. His features are regular and placid, with all the muscles of his face under perfect control, though flexible and expressive of deep feeling when moved by emotion. In conversation he looks you full in the face, is deliberate, deferential and engaging. His voice is agreeable rather than strong. His demeanor at all times composed and dignified. His movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he is a splendid horseman.”

Dr. James Thacher, writing in 1778, depicted him as “remarkably tall, full six feet, erect and well proportioned. The strength and proportion of his joints and muscles, appear to be commensurate with the pre-eminent powers of his mind. The serenity of his countenance, and majestic gracefulness of his deportment, impart a strong impression of that dignity and grandeur, which are his peculiar characteristics, and no one can stand in his presence without feeling the ascendancy of his mind, and associating with his countenance the idea of wisdom, philanthropy, magnanimity and patriotism. There is a fine symmetry in the features of his face, indicative of a benign and dignified spirit. His nose is straight, and his eye inclined to blue. He wears his hair in a becoming cue, and from his forehead it is turned back and powdered in a manner which adds to the military air of his appearance. He displays a native gravity, but devoid of all appearance of ostentation.” In this same year a friend wrote, “General Washington is now in the forty-seventh year of his age; he is a well-made man, rather large boned, and has a tolerably genteel address; his features are manly and bold, his eyes of a bluish cast and very lively; his hair a deep brown, his face rather long and marked with the small-pox; his complexion sunburnt and without much color, and his countenance sensible, composed and thoughtful; there is a remarkable air of dignity about him, with a striking degree of gracefulness.”

In 1789 Senator Maclay saw “him as he really is. In stature about six feet, with an unexceptionable make, but lax appearance. His frame would seem to want filling up. His motions rather slow than lively, though he showed no signs of having suffered by gout or rheumatism. His complexion pale, nay, almost cadaverous. His voice hollow and indistinct, owing, as I believe, to artificial teeth before his upper jaw, which occasions a flatness.”

From frequent opportunity of seeing Washington between 1794 and 1797, William Sullivan described him as “over six feet in stature; of strong, bony, muscular frame, without fullness of covering, well-formed and straight. He was a man of most extraordinary strength. In his own house, his action was calm, deliberate, and dignified, without pretension to gracefulness, or peculiar manner, but merely natural, and such as one would think it should be in such a man. When walking in the street, his movement had not the soldierly air which might be expected. His habitual motions had been formed, long before he took command of the American Armies, in the wars of the interior and in the surveying of wilderness lands, employments in which grace and elegance were not likely to be acquired. At the age of sixty-five, time had done nothing towards bending him out of his natural erectness. His deportment was invariably grave; it was sobriety that stopped short of sadness.”

The French officers and travellers supply other descriptions. The Abbé Robin found him of “tall and noble stature, well proportioned, a fine, cheerful, open countenance, a simple and modest carriage; and his whole mien has something in it that interests the French, the Americans, and even enemies themselves in his favor.”

The Marquis de Chastellux wrote enthusiastically, “In speaking of this perfect whole of which General Washington furnishes the idea, I have not excluded exterior form. His stature is noble and lofty, he is well made, and exactly proportionate; his physiognomy mild and agreeable, but such as to render it impossible to speak particularly of any of his features, so that in quitting him you have only the recollection of a fine face. He has neither a grave nor a familiar face, his brow is sometimes marked with thought, but never with inquietude; in inspiring respect he inspires confidence, and his smile is always the smile of benevolence.”

To this description, however, Brissot de Warville took exception, and supplied his own picture by writing in 1791, “You have often heard me blame M. Chastellux for putting too much sprightliness in the character he has drawn of this general. To give pretensions to the portrait of a man who has none is truly absurd. The General’s goodness appears in his looks. They have nothing of that brilliancy which his officers found in them when he was at the head of his army; but in conversation they become animated. He has no characteristic traits in his figure, and this has rendered it always so difficult to describe it: there are few portraits which resemble him. All his answers are pertinent; he shows the utmost reserve, and is very diffident; but, at the same time, he is firm and unchangeable in whatever he undertakes. His modesty must be very astonishing, especially to a Frenchman.”

British travellers have left a number of pen-portraits. An anonymous writer in 1790 declared that in meeting him “it was not necessary to announce his name, for his peculiar appearance, his firm forehead, Roman nose, and a projection of the lower jaw, his height and figure, could not be mistaken by any one who had seen a full-length picture of him, and yet no picture accurately resembled him in the minute traits of his person. His features, however, were so marked by prominent characteristics, which appear in all likenesses of him, that a stranger could not be mistaken in the man; he was remarkably dignified in his manners, and had an air of benignity over his features which his visitant did not expect, being rather prepared for sternness of countenance…. his smile was extraordinarily attractive. It was observed to me that there was an expression in Washington’s face that no painter had succeeded in taking. It struck me no man could be better formed for command. A stature of six feet, a robust, but well-proportioned frame, calculated to sustain fatigue, without that heaviness which generally attends great muscular strength, and abates active exertion, displayed bodily power of no mean standard. A light eye and full—the very eye of genius and reflection rather than of blind passionate impulse. His nose appeared thick, and though it befitted his other features, was too coarsely and strongly formed to be the handsomest of its class. His mouth was like no other that I ever saw; the lips firm and the under jaw seeming to grasp the upper with force, as if its muscles were in full action when he sat still.”

Two years later, an English diplomat wrote of him, “His person is tall and sufficiently graceful; his face well formed, his complexion rather pale, with a mild philosophic gravity in the expression of it In his air and manner he displays much natural dignity; in his address he is cold, reserved, and even phlegmatic, though without the least appearance of haughtiness or ill-nature; it is the effect, I imagine, of constitutional diffidence. That caution and circumspection which form so striking and well known a feature in his military, and, indeed, in his political character, is very strongly marked in his countenance, for his eyes retire inward (do you understand me?) and have nothing of fire of animation or openness in their expression.”

Wansey, who visited Mount Vernon in 1795, portrayed “The President in his person” as “tall and thin, but erect; rather of an engaging than a dignified presence. He appears very thoughtful, is slow in delivering himself, which occasions some to conclude him reserved, but it is rather, I apprehend, the effect of much thinking and reflection, for there is great appearance to me of affability and accommodation. He was at this time in his sixty-third year … but he has very little the appearance of age, having been all his life long so exceeding temperate.”

In 1797, Weld wrote, “his chest is full; and his limbs, though rather slender, well shaped and muscular. His head is small, in which respect he resembles the make of a great number of his countrymen. His eyes are of a light grey colour; and in proportion to the length of his face, his nose is long. Mr. Stewart, the eminent portrait painter, told me, that there were features in his face totally different from what he ever observed in that of any other human being; the sockets for the eyes, for instance, are larger than what he ever met with before, and the upper part of the nose broader. All his features, he observed, were indicative of the strongest and most ungovernable passions, and had he been born in the forests, it was his opinion that he would have been the fiercest man among the savage tribes.”

Other and briefer descriptions contain a few phrases worth quoting. Samuel Sterns said, “His countenance commonly carries the impression of a serious cast;” Maclay, that “the President seemed to bear in his countenance a settled aspect of melancholy;” and the Prince de Broglie wrote, “His pensive eyes seem more attentive than sparkling, but their expression is benevolent, noble and self-possessed.” Silas Deane in 1775 said he had “a very young look and an easy soldier-like air and gesture,” and in the same year Curwen mentioned his “fine figure” and “easy and agreeable address.” Nathaniel Lawrence noted in 1783 that “the General weighs commonly about 210 pounds.” After death, Lear reports that “Doctor Dick measured the body, which was as follows—In length 6 ft. 3-1/2 inches exact. Across the shoulders 1.9. Across the elbows 2.1.” The pleasantest description is Jefferson’s: “His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble.”

How far the portraits of Washington conveyed his expression is open to question. The quotation already given which said that no picture accurately resembled him in the minute traits of his person is worth noting. Furthermore, his expression varied much according to circumstances, and the painter saw it only in repose. The first time he was drawn, he wrote a friend, “Inclination having yielded to Importunity, I am now contrary to all expectation under the hands of Mr. Peale; but in so grave—so sullen a mood—and now and then under the influence of Morpheus, when some critical strokes are making, that I fancy the skill of this Gentleman’s Pencil will be put to it, in describing to the World what manner of man I am.” This passiveness seems to have seized him at other sittings, for in 1785 he wrote to a friend who asked him to be painted, “In for a penny, in for a Pound, is an old adage. I am so hackneyed to the touches of the painter’s pencil that I am now altogether at their beck; and sit ‘like Patience on a monument,’ whilst they are delineating the lines of my face. It is a proof, among many others, of what habit and custom can accomplish. At first I was as impatient at the request, and as restive under the operation, as a colt is of the saddle. The next time I submitted very reluctantly, but with less flouncing. Now, no dray-horse moves more readily to his thills than I to the painter’s chair.” His aide, Laurens, bears this out by writing of a miniature, “The defects of this portrait are, that the visage is too long, and old age is too strongly marked in it. He is not altogether mistaken, with respect to the languor of the general’s eye; for altho’ his countenance when affected either by joy or anger, is full of expression, yet when the muscles are in a state of repose, his eye certainly wants animation.”

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One portrait which furnished Washington not a little amusement was an engraving issued in London in 1775, when interest in the “rebel General” was great. This likeness, it is needless to say, was entirely spurious, and when Reed sent a copy to head-quarters, Washington wrote to him, “Mrs. Washington desires I will thank you for the picture sent her. Mr. Campbell, whom I never saw, to my knowledge, has made a very formidable figure of the Commander-in-chief, giving him a sufficient portion of terror in his countenance.”

The physical strength mentioned by nearly every one who described Washington is so undoubted that the traditions of his climbing the walls of the Natural Bridge, throwing a stone across the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, and another into the Hudson from the top of the Palisades, pass current more from the supposed muscular power of the man than from any direct evidence. In addition to this, Washington in 1755 claimed to have “one of the best of constitutions,” and again he wrote, “for my own part I can answer, I have a constitution hardy enough to encounter and undergo the most severe trials.”

This vigor was not the least reason of Washington’s success. In the retreat from Brooklyn, “for forty-eight hours preceeding that I had hardly been off my horse,” and between the 13th and the 19th of June of 1777 “I was almost constantly on horseback.” After the battle of Monmouth, as told elsewhere, he passed the night on a blanket; the first night of the siege of York “he slept under a mulberry tree, the root serving for a pillow,” and another time he lay “all night in my Great Coat & Boots, in a birth not long enough for me by the head, & much cramped.” Besides the physical strain there was a mental one. During the siege of Boston he wrote that “The reflection on my situation and that of this army, produces many an uneasy hour when all around me are wrapped in sleep.” Humphreys relates that at Newburg in 1783 a revolt of the whole army seemed imminent, and “when General Washington rose from bed on the morning of the meeting, he told the writer his anxiety had prevented him from sleeping one moment the preceeding night.” Washington observed, in a letter written after the Revolution, “strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that it was not until lately I could get the better of my usual custom of ruminating as soon as I awoke in the morning, on the business of the ensuing day; and of my surprise at finding, after revolving many things in my mind that I was no longer a public man, or had any thing to do with public transactions.”

Despite his strength and constitution, Washington was frequently the victim of illness. What diseases of childhood he suffered are not known, but presumably measles was among them, for when his wife within the first year of married life had an attack he cared for her without catching the complaint. The first of his known illnesses was “Ague and Feaver, which I had to an extremity” about 1748, or when he was sixteen.

In the sea voyage to Barbadoes in 1751, the seamen told Washington that “they had never seen such weather before,” and he says in his diary that the sea “made the Ship rowl much and me very sick.” While in the island, he went to dine with a friend “with great reluctance, as the small-pox was in his family.” A fortnight later Washington “was strongly attacked with the small Pox,” which confined him for nearly a month, and, as already noted, marked his face for life. Shortly after the return voyage he was “taken with a violent pleurise, which … reduced me very low.”

During the Braddock march, “immediately upon our leaving the camp at George’s Creek, on the 14th, … I was seized with violent fevers and pains in my head, which continued without intermission ’till the 23d following, when I was relieved, by the General’s [Braddock] absolutely ordering the physicians to give me Dr. James’ powders (one of the most excellent medicines in the world), for it gave me immediate ease, and removed my fevers and other complaints in four days’ time. My illness was too violent to suffer me to ride; therefore I was indebted to a covered wagon for some part of my transportation; but even in this I could not continue far, for the jolting was so great, I was left upon the road with a guard, and necessaries, to wait the arrival of Colonel Dunbar’s detachment which was two days’ march behind us, the General giving me his word of honor, that I should be brought up, before he reached the French fort. This promise, and the doctor’s threats, that, if I persevered in my attempts to get on, in the condition I was, my life would be endangered, determined me to halt for the above detachment.” Immediately upon his return from that campaign, he told a brother, “I am not able, were I ever so willing, to meet you in town, for I assure you it is with some difficulty, and with much fatigue, that I visit my plantations in the Neck; so much has a sickness of five weeks’ continuance reduced me.”

On the frontier, towards the end of 1757, he was seized with a violent attack of dysentery and fever, which compelled him to leave the army and retire to Mount Vernon. Three months later he said, “I have never been able to return to my command, … my disorder at times returning obstinately upon me, in spite of the efforts of all the sons of Aesculapius, whom I have hitherto consulted. At certain periods I have been reduced to great extremity, and have too much reason to apprehend an approaching decay, being visited with several symptoms of such a disease…. I am now under a strict regimen, and shall set out to-morrow for Williamsburg to receive the advice of the best physician there. My constitution is certainly greatly impaired, and … nothing can retrieve it, but the greatest care and the most circumspect conduct.” It was in this journey that he met his future wife, and either she or the doctor cured him, for nothing more is heard of his approaching “decay.”

In 1761 he was attacked with a disease which seems incidental to new settlements, known in Virginia at that time as the “river fever,” and a hundred years later, farther west, as the “break-bone fever,” and which, in a far milder form, is to-day known as malaria. Hoping to cure it, he went over the mountains to the Warm Springs, being “much overcome with the fatigue of the ride and weather together. However, I think my fevers are a good deal abated, although my pains grow rather worse, and my sleep equally disturbed. What effect the waters may have upon me I can’t say at present, but I expect nothing from the air—this certainly must be unwholesome. I purpose staying here a fortnight and longer if benefitted.” After writing this, a relapse brought him “very near my last gasp. The indisposition … increased upon me, and I fell into a very low and dangerous state. I once thought the grim king would certainly master my utmost efforts, and that I must sink, in spite of a noble struggle; but thank God, I have now got the better of the disorder, and shall soon be restored, I hope, to perfect health again.”

During the Revolution, fortunately, he seems to have been wonderfully exempt from illness, and not till his retirement to Mount Vernon did an old enemy, the ague, reappear. In 1786 he said, in a letter, “I write to you with a very aching head and disordered frame…. Saturday last, by an imprudent act, I brought on an ague and fever on Sunday, which returned with violence Tuesday and Thursday; and, if Dr. Craik’s efforts are ineffectual I shall have them again this day.” His diary gives the treatment: “Seized with an ague before 6 o’clock this morning after having laboured under a fever all night—Sent for Dr. Craik who arrived just as we were setting down to dinner; who, when he thought my fever sufficiently abated gave me cathartick and directed the Bark to be applied in the Morning. September 2. Kept close to the House to day, being my fit day in course least any exposure might bring it on,—happily missed it September 14. At home all day repeating dozes of Bark of which I took 4 with an interval of 2 hours between.”

With 1787 a new foe appeared in the form of “a rheumatic complaint which has followed me more than six months, is frequently so bad that it is sometimes with difficulty I can raise my hand to my head or turn myself in bed.”

During the Presidency Washington had several dangerous illnesses, but the earliest one had a comic side. In his tour through New England in 1789, so Sullivan states, “owing to some mismanagement in the reception ceremonials at Cambridge, Washington was detained a long time, and the weather being inclement, he took cold. For several days afterward a severe influenza prevailed at Boston and its vicinity, and was called the Washington Influenza.” He himself writes of this attack: “Myself much disordered by a cold, and inflammation in the left eye.”

Six months later, in New York, he was “indisposed with a bad cold, and at home all day writing letters on private business,” and this was the beginning of “a severe illness,” which, according to McVickar, was “a case of anthrax, so malignant as for several days to threaten mortification. During this period Dr. Bard never quitted him. On one occasion, being left alone with him, General Washington, looking steadily in his face, desired his candid opinion as to the probable termination of his disease, adding, with that placid firmness which marked his address, ‘Do not flatter me with vain hopes; I am not afraid to die, and therefore can bear the worst!’ Dr. Bard’s answer, though it expressed hope, acknowledged his apprehensions. The President replied, ‘Whether to-night or twenty years hence, makes no difference.’” It was of this that Maclay wrote, “Called to see the President. Every eye full of tears. His life despaired of. Dr. MacKnight told me he would trifle neither with his own character nor the public expectation; his danger was imminent, and every reason to expect that the event of his disorder would be unfortunate.”

During his convalescence the President wrote to a correspondent, “I have the pleasure to inform you, that my health is restored, but a feebleness still hangs upon me, and I am much incommoded by the incision, which was made in a very large and painful tumor on the protuberance of my thigh. This prevents me from walking or sitting. However, the physicians assure me that it has had a happy effect in removing my fever, and will tend very much to the establishment of my general health; it is in a fair way of healing, and time and patience only are wanting to remove this evil. I am able to take exercise in my coach, by having it so contrived as to extend myself the full length of it.” He himself seems to have thought this succession of illness due to the fatigues of office, for he said,—

“Public meetings, and a dinner once a week to as many as my table will hold, with the references to and from the different department of state and other communications with all parts of the Union, are as much, if not more, than I am able to undergo; for I have already had within less than a year, two severe attacks, the last worst than the first. A third, more than probable, will put me to sleep with my fathers. At what distance this may be I know not. Within the last twelve months I have undergone more and severer sickness, than thirty preceding years afflicted me with. Put it all together I have abundant reason, however, to be thankful that I am so well recovered; though I still feel the remains of the violent affection of my lungs; the cough, pain in my breast, and shortness in breathing not having entirely left me.”

While at Mount Vernon in 1794, “an exertion to save myself and horse from falling among the rocks at the Lower Falls of the Potomac (whither I went on Sunday morning to see the canal and locks),… wrenched my back in such a manner as to prevent my riding;” the “hurt” “confined me whilst I was at Mount Vernon,” and it was some time before he could “again ride with ease and safety.” In this same year Washington was operated on by Dr. Tate for cancer,—the same disorder from which his mother had suffered.

After his retirement from office, in 1798, he “was seized with a fever, of which I took little notice until I was obliged to call for the aid of medicine; and with difficulty a remission thereof was so far effected as to dose me all night on thursday with Bark—which having stopped it, and weakness only remaining, will soon wear off as my appetite is returning;” and to a correspondent he apologized for not sooner replying, and pleaded “debilitated health, occasioned by the fever wch. deprived me of 20 lbs. of the weight I had when you and I were at Troy Mills Scales, and rendered writing irksome.”

A glance at Washington’s medical knowledge and opinions may not lack interest. In the “Rules of civility” he had taken so to heart, the boy had been taught that “In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physician if you be not Knowing therein,” but plantation life trained every man to a certain extent in physicking, and the yearly invoice sent to London always ordered such drugs as were needed,—ipecacuanha, jalap, Venice treacle, rhubarb, diacordium, etc., as well as medicines for horses and dogs. In 1755 Washington received great benefit from one quack medicine, “Dr. James’s Powders;” he once bought a quantity of another, “Godfrey’s Cordial;” and at a later time Mrs. Washington tried a third, “Annatipic Pills.” More unenlightened still was a treatment prescribed for Patsy Custis, when “Joshua Evans who came here last night, put a [metal] ring on Patsey (for Fits).” A not much higher order of treatment was Washington sending for Dr. Laurie to bleed his wife, and, as his diary notes, the doctor “came here, I may add, drunk,” so that a night’s sleep was necessary before the service could be rendered. When the small-pox was raging in the Continental Army, even Washington’s earnest request could not get the Virginia Assembly to repeal a law which forbade inoculation, and he had to urge his wife for over four years before he could bring her to the point of submitting to the operation. One quality which implies greatness is told by a visitor, who states that in his call “an allusion was made to a serious fit of illness he had recently suffered; but he took no notice of it” Custis notes that “his aversion to the use of medicine was extreme; and, even when in great suffering, it was only by the entreaties of his lady, and the respectful, yet beseeching look of his oldest friend and companion in arms (Dr. James Craik) that he could be prevailed upon to take the slightest preparation of medicine.” In line with this was his refusal to take anything for a cold, saying, “Let it go as it came,” though this good sense was apparently restricted to his own colds, for Watson relates that in a visit to Mount Vernon “I was extremely oppressed by a severe cold and excessive coughing, contracted by the exposure of a harsh journey. He pressed me to use some remedies, but I declined doing so. As usual, after retiring my coughing increased. When some time had elapsed, the door of my room was gently opened, and, on drawing my bed-curtains, to my utter astonishment, I beheld Washington himself, standing at my bedside, with a bowl of hot tea in his hand.”

The acute attacks of illness already touched upon by no means represent all the physical debility and suffering of Washington’s life. During the Revolution his sight became poor, so that in 1778 he first put on glasses for reading, and Cobb relates that in the officers’ meeting in 1783, which Washington attended In order to check an appeal to arms, “When the General took his station at the desk or pulpit, which, you may recollect, was in the Temple, he took out his written address from his coat pocket and then addressed the officers in the following manner: ‘Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind, in the service of my country.’ This little address, with the mode and manner of delivering it, drew tears from [many] of the officers.”

Nor did his hearing remain entirely good. Maclay noted, at one of the President’s dinners in 1789, that “he seemed in more good humor than I ever saw him, though he was so deaf that I believe he heard little of the conversation,” and three years later the President is reported as saying to Jefferson that he was “sensible, too, of a decay of his hearing, perhaps his other faculties might fall off and he not be sensible of it.”

Washington’s teeth were even more troublesome. Mercer in 1760 alluded to his showing, when his mouth was open, “some defective teeth,” and as early as 1754 one of his teeth was extracted. From this time toothache, usually followed by the extraction of the guilty member, became almost of yearly recurrence, and his diary reiterates, with verbal variations, “indisposed with an aching tooth, and swelled and inflamed gum,” while his ledger contains many items typified by “To Dr. Watson drawing a tooth 5/.” By 1789 he was using false teeth, and he lost his last tooth in 1795. At first these substitutes were very badly fitted, and when Stuart painted his famous picture he tried to remedy the malformation they gave the mouth by padding under the lips with cotton. The result was to make bad worse, and to give, in that otherwise fine portrait, a feature at once poor and unlike Washington, and for this reason alone the Sharpless miniature, which in all else approximates so closely to Stuart’s masterpiece, is preferable. In 1796 Washington was furnished with two sets of “sea-horse” (i.e., hippopotamus) ivory teeth, and they were so much better fitted that the distortion of the mouth ceased to be noticeable.

Washington’s final illness began December 12, 1799, in a severe cold taken by riding about his plantation while “rain, hail and snow” were “falling alternately, with a cold wind.” When he came in late in the afternoon, Lear “observed to him that I was afraid that he had got wet, he said no his great coat had kept him dry; but his neck appeared to be wet and the snow was hanging on his hair.” The next day he had a cold, “and complained of having a sore throat,” yet, though it was snowing, none the less he “went out in the afternoon … to mark some trees which were to be cut down.” “He had a hoarseness which increased in the evening; but he made light of it as he would never take anything to carry off a cold, always observing, ‘let it go as it came.’” At two o’clock the following morning he was seized with a severe ague, and as soon as the house was stirring he sent for an overseer and ordered the man to bleed him, and about half a pint of blood was taken from him. At this time he could “swallow nothing,” “appeared to be distressed, convulsed and almost suffocated.”

There can be scarcely a doubt that the treatment of his last illness by the doctors was little short of murder. Although he had been bled once already, after they took charge of the case they prescribed “two pretty copious bleedings,” and finally a third, “when about 32 ounces of blood were drawn,” or the equivalent of a quart. Of the three doctors, one disapproved of this treatment, and a second wrote, only a few days after Washington’s death, to the third, “you must remember” Dr. Dick “was averse to bleeding the General, and I have often thought that if we had acted according to his suggestion when he said, ‘he needs all his strength— bleeding will diminish it,’ and taken no more blood from him, our good friend might have been alive now. But we were governed by the best light we had; we thought we were right, and so we are justified.”

Shortly after this last bleeding Washington seemed to have resigned himself, for he gave some directions concerning his will, and said, “I find I am going,” and, “smiling,” added, that, “as it was the debt which we must all pay, he looked to the event with perfect resignation.” From this time on “he appeared to be in great pain and distress,” and said, “Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it.” A little later he said, “I feel myself going. I thank you for your attention, you had better not take any more trouble about me; but let me go off quietly.” The last words he said were, “’Tis well.” “About ten minutes before he expired, his breathing became much easier—he lay quietly—… and felt his own pulse…. The general’s hand fell from his wrist,… and he expired without a struggle or a Sigh.”


The father of Washington received his education at Appleby School in England, and, true to his alma mater, he sent his two elder sons to the same school. His death when George was eleven prevented this son from having the same advantage, and such education as he had was obtained in Virginia. His old friend, and later enemy, Rev. Jonathan Boucher, said that “George, like most people thereabouts at that time, had no education than reading, writing and accounts which he was taught by a convict servant whom his father bought for a schoolmaster;” but Boucher managed to include so many inaccuracies in his account of Washington, that even if this statement were not certainly untruthful in several respects, it could be dismissed as valueless.

Born at Wakefield, in Washington parish, Westmoreland, which had been the home of the Washingtons from their earliest arrival in Virginia, George was too young while the family continued there to attend the school which had been founded in that parish by the gift of four hundred and forty acres from some early patron of knowledge. When the boy was about three years old, the family removed to “Washington,” as Mount Vernon was called before it was renamed, and dwelt there from 1735 till 1739, when, owing to the burning of the homestead, another remove was made to an estate on the Rappahannock, nearly opposite Fredericksburg.

Here it was that the earliest education of George was received, for in an old volume of the Bishop of Exeter’s Sermons his name is written, and on a flyleaf a note in the handwriting of a relative who inherited the library states that this “autograph of George Washington’s name is believed to be the earliest specimen of his handwriting, when he was probably not more than eight or nine years old.” During this period, too, there came into his possession the “Young Man’s Companion,” an English vade-mecum of then enormous popularity, written “in a plain and easy stile,” the title states, “that a young Man may attain the same, without a Tutor.” It would be easier to say what this little book did not teach than to catalogue what it did. How to read, write, and figure is but the introduction to the larger part of the work, which taught one to write letters, wills, deeds, and all legal forms, to measure, survey, and navigate, to build houses, to make ink and cider, and to plant and graft, how to address letters to people of quality, how to doctor the sick, and, finally, how to conduct one’s self in company. The evidence still exists of how carefully Washington studied this book, in the form of copybooks, in which are transcribed problem after problem and rule after rule, not to exclude the famous Rules of civility, which biographers of Washington have asserted were written by the boy himself. School-mates thought fit, after Washington became famous, to remember his “industry and assiduity at school as very remarkable,” and the copies certainly bear out the statement, but even these prove that the lad was as human as the man, for scattered here and there among the logarithms, geometrical problems, and legal forms are crude drawings of birds, faces, and other typical school-boy attempts.

From this book, too, came two qualities which clung to him through life. His handwriting, so easy, flowing, and legible, was modelled from the engraved “copy” sheet, and certain forms of spelling were acquired here that were never corrected, though not the common usage of his time. To the end of his life, Washington wrote lie, lye; liar, lyar; ceiling, cieling; oil, oyl; and blue, blew, as in his boyhood he had learned to do from this book. Even in his carefully prepared will, “lye” was the form in which he wrote the word. It must be acknowledged that, aside from these errors which he had been taught, through his whole life Washington was a non-conformist as regarded the King’s English: struggle as he undoubtedly did, the instinct of correct spelling was absent, and thus every now and then a verbal slip appeared: extravagence, lettely (for lately), glew, riffle (for rifle), latten (for Latin), immagine, winder, rief (for rife), oppertunity, spirma citi, yellow oaker,—such are types of his lapses late in life, while his earlier letters and journals are far more inaccurate. It must be borne in mind, however, that of these latter we have only the draughts, which were undoubtedly written carelessly, and the two letters actually sent which are now known, and the text of his surveys before he was twenty, are quite as well written as his later epistles.

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Easy Copies to Write by.

On the death of his father, Washington went to live with his brother Augustine, in order, it is presumed, that he might take advantage of a good school near Wakefield, kept by one Williams; but after a time he returned to his mother’s, and attended the school kept by the Rev. James Marye, in Fredericksburg. It has been universally asserted by his biographers that he studied no foreign language, but direct proof to the contrary exists in a copy of Patrick’s Latin translation of Homer, printed in 1742, the fly-leaf of a copy of which bears, in a school-boy hand, the inscription:

“Hunc mihi quaeso (bone Vir) Libellum
Redde, si forsan tenues repertum
Ut Scias qui sum sine fraude Scriptum.

Est mihi nomen,                
Georgio Washington,            
George Washington,        

It is thus evident that the reverend teacher gave Washington at least the first elements of Latin, but it is equally clear that the boy, like most others, forgot it with the greatest facility as soon as he ceased studying.

The end of Washington’s school-days left him, if a good “cipherer,” a bad speller, and a still worse grammarian, but, fortunately, the termination of instruction did not by any means end his education. From that time there is to be noted a steady improvement in both these failings. Pickering stated that “when I first became acquainted with the General (in 1777) his writing was defective in grammar, and even spelling, owing to the insufficiency of his early education; of which, however, he gradually got the better in the subsequent years of his life, by the official perusal of some excellent models, particularly those of Hamilton; by writing with care and patient attention; and reading numerous, indeed multitudes of letters to and from his friends and correspondents. This obvious improvement was begun during the war.” In 1785 a contemporary noted that “the General is remarked for writing a most elegant letter,” adding that, “like the famous Addison, his writing excells his speaking,” and Jefferson said that “he wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy and correct style. This he had acquired by conversation with the world, for his education was merely reading, writing and common arithmetic, to which he added surveying at a later day.”

There can be no doubt that Washington felt his lack of education very keenly as he came to act upon a larger sphere than as a Virginia planter. “I am sensible,” he wrote a friend, of his letters, “that the narrations are just, and that truth and honesty will appear in my writings; of which, therefore, I shall not be ashamed, though criticism may censure my style.” When his secretary suggested to him that he should write his own life, he replied, “In a former letter I informed you, my dear Humphreys, that if I had talents for it, I have not leisure to turn my thoughts to Commentaries. A consciousness of a defective education, and a certainty of the want of time, unfit me for such an undertaking.” On being pressed by a French comrade-in-arms to pay France a visit, he declined, saying, “Remember, my good friend, that I am unacquainted with your language, that I am too far advanced in years to acquire a knowledge of it, and that, to converse through the medium of an interpreter upon common occasions, especially with the Ladies, must appear so extremely awkward, insipid, and uncouth, that I can scarce bear it in idea.”

In 1788, without previous warning, he was elected chancellor of William and Mary College, a distinction by which he felt “honored and greatly affected;” but “not knowing particularly what duties, or whether any active services are immediately expected from the person holding the office of chancellor, I have been greatly embarrassed in deciding upon the public answer proper to be given…. My difficulties are briefly these. On the one hand, nothing in this world could be farther from my heart, than … a refusal of the appointment … provided its duties are not incompatible with the mode of life to which I have entirely addicted myself; and, on the other hand, I would not for any consideration disappoint the just expectations of the convocation by accepting an office, whose functions I previously knew … I should be absolutely unable to perform.”

Perhaps the most touching proof of his own self-depreciation was something he did when he had become conscious that his career would be written about. Still in his possession were the letter-books in which he had kept copies of his correspondence while in command of the Virginia regiment between 1754 and 1759, and late in life he went through these volumes, and, by interlining corrections, carefully built them into better literary form. How this was done is shown here by a single facsimile.

With the appointment to command the Continental Army, a secretary was secured, and in an absence of this assistant he complained to him that “my business increases very fast, and my distresses for want of you along with it. Mr. Harrison is the only gentleman of my family, that can afford me the least assistance in writing. He and Mr. Moylan,… have heretofore afforded me their aid; and … they have really had a great deal of trouble.”

Most of Washington’s correspondence during the Revolution was written by his aides. Pickering said,—

“As to the public letters bearing his signature, it is certain that he could not have maintained so extensive a correspondence with his own pen, even if he had possessed the ability and promptness of Hamilton. That he would, sometimes with propriety, observe upon, correct, and add to any draught submitted for his examination and signature, I have no doubt. And yet I doubt whether many, if any, of the letters … are his own draught…. I have even reason to believe that not only the composition, the clothing of the ideas, but the ideas themselves, originated generally with the writers; that Hamilton and Harrison, in particular, were scarcely in any degree his amanuenses. I remember, when at head-quarters one day, at Valley Forge, Colonel Harrison came down from the General’s chamber, with his brows knit, and thus accosted me, ‘I wish to the Lord the General would give me the heads or some idea, of what he would have me write.’”

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After the Revolution, a visitor at Mount Vernon said, “It’s astonishing the packet of letters that daily comes for him from all parts of the world, which employ him most of the morning to answer.” A secretary was employed, but not so much to do the actual writing as the copying and filing, and at this time Washington complained “that my numerous correspondencies are daily becoming irksome to me.” Yet there can be little question that he richly enjoyed writing when it was not for the public eye. “It is not the letters of my friends which give me trouble,” he wrote to one correspondent; to another he said, “I began with telling you that I should not write a lengthy letter but the result has been to contradict it;” and to a third, “when I look back to the length of this letter, I am so much astonished and frightened at it myself that I have not the courage to give it a careful reading for the purpose of correction. You must, therefore, receive it with all its imperfections, accompanied with this assurance, that, though there may be inaccuracies in the letter, there is not a single defect in the friendship.” Occasionally there was, as here, an apology: “I am persuaded you will excuse this scratch’d scrawl, when I assure you it is with difficulty I write at all,” he ended a letter in 1777, and in 1792 of another said, “You must receive it blotted and scratched as you find it for I have not time to copy it. It is now ten o’clock at night, after my usual hour for retiring to rest, and the mail will be closed early to-morrow morning.”

To his overseer, who neglected to reply to some of his questions, he told his method of writing, which is worth quoting:

“Whenever I set down to write you, I read your letter, or letters carefully over, and as soon as I come to a part that requires to be noticed, I make a short note on the cover of a letter or piece of waste paper;—then read on the next, noting that in like manner;—and so on until I have got through the whole letter and reports. Then in writing my letter to you, as soon as I have finished what I have to say on one of these notes I draw my pen through it and proceed to another and another until the whole is done—crossing each as I go on, by which means if I am called off twenty times whilst I am writing, I can never with these notes before me finished or unfinished, omit anything I wanted to say; and they serve me also, as I keep no copies of letters I wrote to you, as Memorandums of what has been written if I should have occasion at any time to refer to them.”

Another indication of his own knowledge of defects is shown by his fear about his public papers. When his Journal to the Ohio was printed by order of the governor, in 1754, in the preface the young author said, “I think I can do no less than apologize, in some Measure, for the numberless imperfections of it. There intervened but one Day between my Arrival in Williamsburg, and the Time for the Council’s Meeting, for me to prepare and transcribe, from the rough Minutes I had taken in my Travels, this Journal; the writing of which only was sufficient to employ me closely the whole Time, consequently admitted of no Leisure to consult of a new and proper Form to offer it in, or to correct or amend the Diction of the old.” Boucher states that the publication, “in Virginia at least, drew on him some ridicule.”

This anxiety about his writings was shown all through life, and led Washington to rely greatly on such of his friends as would assist him, even to the point, so Reed thought, that he “sometimes adopted draughts of writing when his own would have been better … from an extreme diffidence in himself,” and Pickering said, in writing to an aide,—

“Although the General’s private correspondence was doubtless, for the most part, his own, and extremely acceptable to the persons addressed; yet, in regard to whatever was destined to meet the public eye, he seems to have been fearful to exhibit his own compositions, relying too much on the judgment of his friends, and sometimes adopted draughts that were exceptionable. Some parts of his private correspondence must have essentially differed from other parts in the style of composition. You mention your own aids to the General in this line. Now, if I had your draughts before me, mingled with the General’s to the same persons, nothing would be more easy than to assign to each his own proper offspring. You could neither restrain your courser, nor conceal your imagery, nor express your ideas otherwise than in the language of a scholar. The General’s compositions would be perfectly plain and didactic, and not always correct.”

During the Presidency, scarcely anything of a public nature was penned by Washington,—Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and Randolph acting as his draughtsmen. “We are approaching the first Monday in December by hasty strides,” he wrote to Jefferson. “I pray you, therefore, to revolve in your mind such matters as may be proper for me to lay before Congress, not only in your own department, (if any there be,) but such others of a general nature, as may happen to occur to you, that I may be prepared to open the session with such communication, as shall appear to merit attention.” Two years later he said to the same, “I pray you to note down or rather to frame into paragraphs or sections, such matters as may occur to you as fit and proper for general communication at the opening of the next session of Congress, not only in the department of state, but on any other subject applicable to the occasion, that I may in due time have everything before me.” To Hamilton he wrote in 1795, “Having desired the late Secretary of State to note down every matter as it occurred, proper either for the speech at the opening of the session, or for messages afterwards, the inclosed paper contains everything I could extract from that office. Aid me, I pray you, with your sentiments on these points, and such others as may have occurred to you relative to my communications to Congress.”

The best instance is furnished in the preparation of the Farewell Address. First Madison was asked to prepare a draft, and from this Washington drew up a paper, which he submitted to Hamilton and Jay, with the request that “even if you should think it best to throw the whole into a different form, let me request, notwithstanding, that my draught may be returned to me (along with yours) with such amendments and corrections as to render it as perfect as the formation is susceptible of; curtailed if too verbose; and relieved of all tautology not necessary to enforce the ideas in the original or quoted part. My wish is that the whole may appear in a plain style, and be handed to the public in an honest, unaffected, simple part.” Accordingly, Hamilton prepared what was almost a new instrument in form, though not in substance, which, after “several serious and attentive readings,” Washington wrote that he preferred “greatly to the other draughts, being more copious on material points, more dignified on the whole, and with less egotism; of course, less exposed to criticism, and better calculated to meet the eye of discerning readers (foreigners particularly, whose curiosity I have little doubt will lead them to inspect it attentively, and to pronounce their opinions on the performance).” The paper was then, according to Pickering, “put into the hands of Wolcott, McHenry, and myself … with a request that we would examine it, and note any alterations and corrections which we should think best. We did so; but our notes, as well as I recollect, were very few, and regarded chiefly the grammar and composition.” Finally, Washington revised the whole, and it was then made public.

Confirmatory of this sense of imperfect cultivation are the pains he took that his adopted son and grandson should be well educated. As already noted, tutors for both were secured at the proper ages, and when Jack was placed with the Rev. Mr. Boucher, Washington wrote: “In respect to the kinds, & manner of his Studying I leave it wholely to your better Judgment—had he begun, or rather pursued his study of the Greek Language, I should have thought it no bad acquisition; but whether if he acquire this now, he may not forego some useful branches of learning, is a matter worthy of consideration. To be acquainted with the French Tongue is become part of polite Education; and to a man who has the prospect of mixing in a large Circle absolutely necessary. Without Arithmetick, the common affairs of Life are not to be managed with success. The study of Geometry, and the Mathematics (with due regard to the limites of it) is equally advantageous. The principles of Philosophy Moral, Natural, &c. I should think a very desirable knowledge for a Gentleman.” So, too, he wrote to Washington Custis, “I do not hear you mention anything of geography or mathematics as parts of your study; both these are necessary branches of useful knowledge. Nor ought you to let your knowledge of the Latin language and grammatical rules escape you. And the French language is now so universal, and so necessary with foreigners, or in a foreign country, that I think you would be injudicious not to make yourself master of it.” It is worth noting in connection with this last sentence that Washington used only a single French expression with any frequency, and that he always wrote “faupas.”

Quite as indicative of the value he put on education was the aid he gave towards sending his young relatives and others to college, his annual contribution to an orphan school, his subscriptions to academies, and his wish for a national university. In 1795 he said,—

“It has always been a source of serious reflection and sincere regret with me, that the youth of the United States should be sent to foreign countries for the purpose of education…. For this reason I have greatly wished to see a plan adopted, by which the arts, sciences, and belles-lettres could be taught in their fullest extent, thereby embracing all the advantages of European tuition, with the means of acquiring the liberal knowledge, which is necessary to qualify our citizens for the exigencies of public as well as private life; and (which with me is a consideration of great magnitude) by assembling the youth from the different parts of this rising republic, contributing from their intercourse and interchange of information to the removal of prejudices, which might perhaps sometimes arise from local circumstances.”

In framing his Farewell Address, “revolving … on the various matters it contained and on the first expression of the advice or recommendation which was given in it, I have regretted that another subject (which in my estimation is of interesting concern to the well-being of this country) was not touched upon also; I mean education generally, as one of the surest means of enlightening and giving just ways of thinking to our citizens, but particularly the establishment of a university; where the youth from all parts of the United States might receive the polish of erudition in the arts, sciences and belles-lettres.” Eventually he reduced this idea to a plea for the people to “promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge,” because “in proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” By his will he left to the endowment of a university in the District of Columbia the shares in the Potomac Company which had been given him by the State of Virginia, but the clause was never carried into effect.

It was in 1745 that Washington’s school-days came to an end. His share of his father’s property being his mother’s till he was twenty-one, a livelihood had to be found, and so at about fourteen years of age the work of life began. Like a true boy, the lad wanted to go to sea, despite his uncle’s warning “that I think he had better be put apprentice to a tinker; for a common sailor before the mast has by no means the liberty of the subject; for they will press him from a ship where he has fifty shillings a month; and make him take twenty-three, and cut and slash, and use him like a negro, or rather like a dog.” His mother, however, would not consent, and to this was due his becoming a surveyor.

From his “Young Man’s Companion” Washington had already learned the use of Gunter’s rule and how it should be used in surveying, and to complete his knowledge he seems to have taken lessons of the licensed surveyor of Westmoreland County, James Genn, for transcripts of some of the surveys drawn by Genn still exist in the handwriting of his pupil. This implied a distinct and very valuable addition to his knowledge, and a large number of his surveys still extant are marvels of neatness and careful drawing. As a profession it was followed for only four years (1747-1751), but all through life he often used his knowledge in measuring or platting his own property. Far more important is the service it was to him in public life. In 1755 he sent to Braddock’s secretary a map of the “back country,” and to the governor of Virginia plans of two forts. During the Revolution it helped him not merely in the study of maps, but also in the facility it gave him to take in the topographical features of the country. Very largely, too, was the selection of the admirable site for the capital due to his supervising: all the plans for the city were submitted to him, and nowhere do the good sense and balance of the man appear to better advantage than in his correspondence with the Federal city commissioners.

In Washington’s earliest account-book there is an item when he was sixteen years old, “To cash pd ye Musick Master for my Entrance 3/9.” It is commonly said that he played the flute, but this is as great a libel on him as any Tom Paine wrote, and though he often went to concerts, and though fond of hearing his granddaughter Nelly play and sing, he never was himself a performer, and the above entry probably refers to the singing-master whom the boys and girls of that day made the excuse for evening frolics.

Mention is made elsewhere of his taking lessons in the sword exercise from Van Braam in these earlier years, and in 1756 he paid to Sergeant Wood, fencing-master, the sum of £1.1.6. When he received the offer of a position on Braddock’s staff, he acknowledged, in accepting, that “I must be ingenuous enough to confess, that I am not a little biassed by selfish considerations. To explain, Sir, I wish earnestly to attain some knowledge in the military profession, and, believing a more favorable opportunity cannot offer, than to serve under a gentleman of General Braddock’s abilities and experience, it does … not a little contribute to influence my choice.” Hamilton is quoted as saying that Washington “never read any book upon the art of war but Sim’s Military Guide,” and an anonymous author asserted that “he never read a book in the art of war of higher value than Bland’s Exercises.” Certain it is that nearly all the military knowledge he possessed was derived from practice rather than from books, and though, late in life, he purchased a number of works on the subject, it was after his army service was over.

One factor in Washington’s education which must not go unnoticed was his religious belief. When only two months old he was baptized, presumably by the Rev. Lawrence De Butts, the clergyman of Washington parish. The removal from that locality prevented any further religious influence from this clergyman, and it probably first came from the Rev. Charles Green, of Truro parish, who had received his appointment through the friendship of Washington’s father, and who later was on such friendly terms with Washington that he doctored Mrs. Washington in an attack of the measles, and caught and returned two of his parishioner’s runaway slaves. As early as 1724 the clergyman of the parish in which Mount Vernon was situated reported that he catechised the youth of his congregation “in Lent and a great part of the Summer,” and George, as the son of one of his vestrymen, undoubtedly received a due amount of questioning.

From 1748 till 1759 there was little church-going for the young surveyor or soldier, but after his marriage and settling at Mount Vernon he was elected vestryman in the two parishes of Truro and Fairfax, and from that election he was quite active in church affairs. It may be worth noting that in the elections of 1765 the new vestryman stood third in popularity in the Truro church and fifth in that of Fairfax. He drew the plans for a new church in Truro, and subscribed to its building, intending “to lay the foundation of a family pew,” but by a vote of the vestry it was decided that there should be no private pews, and this breach of contract angered Washington so greatly that he withdrew from the church in 1773. Sparks quotes Madison to the effect that “there was a tradition that, when he [Washington] belonged to the vestry of a church in his neighborhood, and several little difficulties grew out of some division of the society, he sometimes spoke with great force, animation, and eloquence on the topics that came before them.” After this withdrawal he bought a pew in Christ Church in Alexandria (Fairfax parish), paying £36.10, which was the largest price paid by any parishioner. To this church he was quite liberal, subscribing several times towards repairs, etc.

The Rev. Lee Massey, who was rector at Pohick (Truro) Church before the Revolution, is quoted by Bishop Meade as saying that

“I never knew so constant an attendant in church as Washington. And his behavior in the house of God was ever so deeply reverential that it produced the happiest effect on my congregation, and greatly assisted me in my pulpit labors. No company ever withheld him from church. I have often been at Mount Vernon on Sabbath morning, when his breakfast table was filled with guests; but to him they furnished no pretext for neglecting his God and losing the satisfaction of setting a good example. For instead of staying at home, out of false complaisance to them, he used constantly to invite them to accompany him.”

This seems to have been written more with an eye to its influence on others than to its strict accuracy. During the time Washington attended at Pohick Church he was by no means a regular church-goer. His daily “where and how my time is spent” enables us to know exactly how often he attended church, and in the year 1760 he went just sixteen times, and in 1768 he went fourteen, these years being fairly typical of the period 1760-1773. During the Presidency a sense of duty made him attend St Paul’s and Christ churches while in New York and Philadelphia, but at Mount Vernon, when the public eye was not upon him, he was no more regular than he had always been, and in the last year of his life he wrote, “Six days do I labor, or, in other words, take exercise and devote my time to various occupations in Husbandry, and about my mansion. On the seventh, now called the first day, for want of a place of Worship (within less than nine miles) such letters as do not require immediate acknowledgment I give answers to…. But it hath so happened, that on the two last Sundays—call them the first or the seventh as you please, I have been unable to perform the latter duty on account of visits from Strangers, with whom I could not use the freedom to leave alone, or recommend to the care of each other, for their amusement.”

What he said here was more or less typical of his whole life. Sunday was always the day on which he wrote his private letters,—even prepared his invoices,—and he wrote to one of his overseers that his letters should be mailed so as to reach him Saturday, as by so doing they could be answered the following day. Nor did he limit himself to this, for he entertained company, closed land purchases, sold wheat, and, while a Virginia planter, went foxhunting, on Sunday. It is to be noted, however, that he considered the scruples of others as to the day. When he went among his western tenants, rent-collecting, he entered in his diary that, it “being Sunday and the People living on my Land apparently very religious, it was thought best to postpone going among them till to-morrow,” and in his journey through New England, because it was “contrary to the law and disagreeable to the People of this State (Connecticut) to travel on the Sabbath day—and my horses, after passing through such intolerable roads, wanting rest, I stayed at Perkins’ tavern (which, by the bye, is not a good one) all day—and a meetinghouse being within a few rods of the door, I attended the morning and evening services, and heard very lame discourses from a Mr. Pond.” It is of this experience that tradition says the President started to travel, but was promptly arrested by a Connecticut tithing-man. The story, however, lacks authentication.

There can be no doubt that religious intolerance was not a part of Washington’s character. In 1775, when the New England troops intended to celebrate Guy Fawkes day, as usual, the General Orders declared that “as the Commander in chief has been apprised of a design, formed for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the effigy of the Pope, he cannot help expressing his surprise, that there should be officers and soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step.” When trying to secure some servants, too, he wrote that “if they are good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mahometans, Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists.” When the bill taxing all the people of Virginia to support the Episcopal Church (his own) was under discussion, he threw his weight against it, as far as concerned the taxing of other sectaries, but adding:

“Although no man’s sentiments are more opposed to any kind of restraint upon religious principles than mine are, yet I must confess, that I am not amongst the number of those, who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if of the denomination, of Christians, or to declare themselves Jews, Mahometans, or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief. As the matter now stands, I wish an assessment had never been agitated, and as it has gone so far, that the bill could die an easy death; because I think it will be productive of more quiet to the State, than by enacting it into a law, which in my opinion would be impolitic, admitting there is a decided majority for it, to the disquiet of a respectable minority. In the former case, the matter will soon subside; in the latter, it will rankle and perhaps convulse the State.”

Again in a letter he says,—

“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes, that the lightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far, that we should never again see their religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”

And to Lafayette, alluding to the proceedings of the Assembly of Notables, he wrote,—

“I am not less ardent in my wish, that you may succeed in your plan of toleration in religious matters. Being no bigot myself, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church with that road to Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct, plainest, easiest, and least liable to exception.”

What Washington believed has been a source of much dispute. Jefferson states “that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets, and believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did,” and Morris, it is scarcely necessary to state, was an atheist. The same authority quotes Rush, to the effect that “when the clergy addressed General Washington on his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation, that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen their address, as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not They did so. But, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice.”

Whatever his belief, in all public ways Washington threw his influence in favor of religion, and kept what he really believed a secret, and in only one thing did he disclose his real thoughts. It is asserted that before the Revolution he partook of the sacrament, but this is only affirmed by hearsay, and better evidence contradicts it. After that war he did not, it is certain. Nelly Custis states that on “communion Sundays he left the church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back for my grandmother.” And the assistant minister of Christ Church in Philadelphia states that—

“Observing that on Sacrament Sundays, Gen’l Washington, immediately after the Desk and Pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the congregation, always leaving Mrs. Washington with the communicants, she invariably being one, I considered it my duty, in a sermon on Public Worship, to state the unhappy tendency of example, particularly those in elevated stations, who invariably turned their backs upon the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the President, as such, he received it. A few days after, in conversation with, I believe, a Senator of the U.S. he told me he had dined the day before with the President, who in the course of the conversation at the table, said, that on the preceding Sunday, he had received a very just reproof from the pulpit, for always leaving the church before the administration of the Sacrament; that he honored the preacher for his integrity and candour; that he had never considered the influence of his example; that he would never again give cause for the repetition of the reproof; and that, as he had never been a communicant, were he to become one then, it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal arising altogether from his elevated station. Accordingly he afterwards never came on the morning of Sacrament Sunday, tho’ at other times, a constant attendant in the morning.”

Nelly Custis, too, tells us that Washington always “stood during the devotional part of the service,” and Bishop White states that “his behavior was always serious and attentive; but, as your letter seems to intend an inquiry on the point of kneeling during the service, I owe it to the truth to declare, that I never saw him in the said attitude.” Probably his true position is described by Madison, who is quoted as saying that he did “not suppose that Washington had ever attended to the arguments for Christianity, and for the different systems of religion, or in fact that he had formed definite opinions on the subject. But he took these things as he found them existing, and was constant in his observances of worship according to the received forms of the Episcopal Church, in which he was brought up.”

If there was proof needed that it is mind and not education which pushes a man to the front, it is to be found in the case of Washington. Despite his want of education, he had, so Bell states, “an excellent understanding.” Patrick Henry is quoted as saying of the members of the Congress of 1774— the body of which Adams claimed that “every man in it is a great man, an orator, a critic, a statesman”—that “if you speak of solid information and sound judgment Colonel Washington is unquestionably the greatest man on the floor;” while Jefferson asserted that “his mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion.”


The book from which Washington derived almost the whole of his education warned its readers,—

“Young Men have ever more a special care
That Womanish Allurements prove not a snare;”

but, however carefully the lad studied the rest, this particular admonition took little root in his mind. There can be no doubt that Washington during the whole of his life had a soft heart for women, and especially for good-looking ones, and both in his personal intercourse and in his letters he shows himself very much more at ease with them than in his relations with his own sex. Late in life, when the strong passions of his earlier years were under better control, he was able to write,—

“Love is said to be an involuntary passion, and it is, therefore, contended that it cannot be resisted. This is true in part only, for like all things else, when nourished and supplied plentifully with aliment, it is rapid in its progress; but let these be withdrawn and it may be stifled in its birth or much stinted in its growth. For example, a woman (the same may be said of the other sex) all beautiful and accomplished will, while her hand and heart are undisposed of, turn the heads and set the circle in which she moves on fire. Let her marry, and what is the consequence? The madness ceases and all is quiet again. Why? not because there is any diminution in the charms of the lady, but because there is an end of hope. Hence it follows, that love may and therefore ought to be under the guidance of reason, for although we cannot avoid first impressions, we may assuredly place them under guard.”

To write thus in one’s sixty-sixth year and to practise one’s theory in youth were, however, very different undertakings. Even while discussing love so philosophically, the writer had to acknowledge that “in the composition of the human frame, there is a good deal of inflammable matter,” and few have had better cause to know it. When he saw in the premature engagement of his ward, Jack Custis, the one advantage that it would “in a great measure avoid those little flirtations with other young ladies that may, by dividing the attention, contribute not a little to divide the affection,” it is easy to think of him as looking back to his own boyhood, and remembering, it is to be hoped with a smile, the sufferings he owed to pretty faces and neatly turned ankles.

While still a school-boy, Washington was one day caught “romping with one of the largest girls,” and very quickly more serious likings followed. As early as 1748, when only sixteen years of age, his heart was so engaged that while at Lord Fairfax’s and enjoying the society of Mary Cary he poured out his feelings to his youthful correspondents “Dear Robin” and “Dear John” and “Dear Sally” as follows:

“My place of Residence is at present at His Lordships where I might was my heart disengag’d pass my time very pleasantly as theres a very agreeable Young Lady Lives in the same house (Colo George Fairfax’s Wife’s Sister) but as thats only adding Fuel to fire it makes me the more uneasy for by often and unavoidably being in Company with her revives my former Passion for your Low Land Beauty whereas was I to live more retired from young Women I might in some measure eliviate my sorrows by burying that chast and troublesome Passion in the grave of oblivion or etarnall forgetfulness for as I am very well assured thats the only antidote or remedy that I shall be releivd by or only recess that can administer any cure or help to me as I am well convinced was I ever to attempt any thing I should only get a denial which would be only adding grief to uneasiness.”

“Was my affections disengaged I might perhaps form some pleasure in the conversation of an agreeable Young Lady as theres one now Lives in the same house with me but as that is only nourishment to my former affecn for by often seeing her brings the other into my remembrance whereas perhaps was she not often & (unavoidably) presenting herself to my view I might in some measure aliviate my sorrows by burying the other in the grave of Oblivion I am well convinced my heart stands in defiance of all others but only she thats given it cause enough to dread a second assault and from a different Quarter tho’ I well know let it have as many attacks as it will from others they cant be more fierce than it has been.”

“I Pass the time of[f] much more agreeabler than what I imagined I should as there’s a very agrewable Young Lady lives in the same house where I reside (Colo George Fairfax’s Wife’s Sister) that in a great Measure cheats my thoughts altogether from your Parts I could wish to be with you down there with all my heart but as it is a thing almost Impractakable shall rest myself where I am with hopes of shortly having some Minutes of your transactions in your Parts which will be very welcomely receiv’d.”

Who this “Low Land Beauty” was has been the source of much speculation, but the question is still unsolved, every suggested damsel—Lucy Grymes, Mary Bland, Betsy Fauntleroy, et al.—being either impossible or the evidence wholly inadequate. But in the same journal which contains the draughts of these letters is a motto poem—

“Twas Perfect Love before
But Now I do adore”—

followed by the words “Young M.A. his W[ife?],” and as it was a fashion of the time to couple the initials of one’s well-beloved with such sentiments, a slight clue is possibly furnished. Nor was this the only rhyme that his emotions led to his inscribing in his journal: and he confided to it the following:

“Oh Ye Gods why should my Poor Resistless Heart
    Stand to oppose thy might and Power
At Last surrender to cupids feather’d Dart
    And now lays Bleeding every Hour
For her that’s Pityless of my grief and Woes
    And will not on me Pity take
He sleep amongst my most inveterate Foes
    And with gladness never wish to wake
In deluding sleepings let my Eyelids close
    That in an enraptured Dream I may
In a soft lulling sleep and gentle repose
    Possess those joys denied by Day.”

However woe-begone the young lover was, he does not seem to have been wholly lost to others of the sex, and at this same time he was able to indite an acrostic to another charmer, which, if incomplete, nevertheless proves that there was a “midland” beauty as well, the lady being presumptively some member of the family of Alexanders, who had a plantation near Mount Vernon.

“From your bright sparkling Eyes I was undone;
Rays, you have; more transperent than the Sun.
Amidst its glory in the rising Day
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you’l Find.

Ah! woe’s me, that I should Love and conceal
Long have I wish’d, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was’t free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart.”

When visiting Barbadoes, in 1751, Washington noted in his journal his meeting a Miss Roberts, “an agreeable young lady,” and later he went with her to see some fireworks on Guy Fawkes day. Apparently, however, the ladies of that island made little impression on him, for he further noted, “The Ladys Generally are very agreeable but by ill custom or w[ha]t effect the Negro style.” This sudden insensibility is explained by a letter he wrote to William Fauntleroy a few weeks after his return to Virginia:

“Sir: I should have been down long before this, but my business in Frederick detained me somewhat longer than I expected, and immediately upon my return from thence I was taken with a violent Pleurise, but purpose as soon as I recover my strength, to wait on Miss Betsy, in hopes of a revocation of the former cruel sentence, and see if I can meet with any alteration in my favor. I have enclosed a letter to her, which should be much obliged to you for the delivery of it. I have nothing to add but my best respects to your good lady and family, and that I am, Sir, Your most ob’t humble serv’t.”

Because of this letter it has been positively asserted that Betsy Fauntleroy was the Low-Land Beauty of the earlier time; but as Washington wrote of his love for the latter in 1748, when Betsy was only eleven, the absurdity of the claim is obvious.

In 1753, while on his mission to deliver the governor’s letter to the French, one duty which fell to the young soldier was a visit to royalty, in the person of Queen Aliquippa, an Indian majesty who had “expressed great Concern” that she had formerly been slighted. Washington records that “I made her a Present of a Match-coat and a Bottle of Rum; which latter was thought much the best Present of the Two,” and thus (externally and internally) restored warmth to her majesty’s feelings.

When returned from his first campaign, and resting at Mount Vernon, the time seems to have been beguiled by some charmer, for one of Washington’s officers and intimates writes from Williamsburg, “I imagine you By this time plung’d in the midst of delight heaven can afford & enchanted By Charmes even Stranger to the Ciprian Dame,” and a footnote by the same hand only excites further curiosity concerning this latter personage by indefinitely naming her as “Mrs. Neil.”

With whatever heart-affairs the winter was passed, with the spring the young man’s fancy turned not to love, but again to war, and only when the defeat of Braddock brought Washington back to Mount Vernon to recover from the fatigues of that campaign was his intercourse with the gentler sex resumed. Now, however, he was not merely a good-looking young fellow, but was a hero who had had horses shot from under him and had stood firm when scarlet-coated men had run away. No longer did he have to sue for the favor of the fair ones, and Fairfax wrote him that “if a Satterday Nights Rest cannot be sufficient to enable your coming hither to-morrow, the Lady’s will try to get Horses to equip our Chair or attempt their strength on Foot to Salute you, so desirous are they with loving Speed to have an occular Demonstration of your being the same Identical Gent—that lately departed to defend his Country’s Cause.” Furthermore, to this letter was appended the following:

“DEAR SIR,—After thanking Heaven for your safe return I must accuse you of great unkindness in refusing us the pleasure of seeing you this night. I do assure you nothing but our being satisfied that our company would be disagreeable should prevent us from trying if our Legs would not carry us to Mount Vernon this night, but if you will not come to us to-morrow morning very early we shall be at Mount Vernon.


Nor is this the only feminine postscript of this time, for in the postscript of a letter from Archibald Cary, a leading Virginian, he is told that “Mrs. Cary & Miss Randolph joyn in wishing you that sort of Glory which will most Indear you to the Fair Sex.”

In 1756 Washington had occasion to journey on military business to Boston, and both in coming and in going he tarried in New York, passing ten days in his first visit and about a week on his return. This time was spent with a Virginian friend, Beverly Robinson, who had had the good luck to marry Susannah Philipse, a daughter of Frederick Philipse, one of the largest landed proprietors of the colony of New York. Here he met the sister, Mary Philipse, then a girl of twenty-five, and, short as was the time, it was sufficient to engage his heart. To this interest no doubt are due the entries in his accounts of sundry pounds spent “for treating Ladies,” and for the large tailors’ bills then incurred. But neither treats nor clothes won the lady, who declined his proposals, and gave her heart two years later to Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Morris. A curious sequel to this disappointment was the accident that made the Roger Morris house Washington’s head-quarters in 1776, both Morris and his wife being fugitive Tories. Again Washington was a chance visitor in 1790, when, as part of a picnic, he “dined on a dinner provided by Mr. Marriner at the House lately Colo. Roger Morris, but confiscated and in the occupation of a common Farmer.”

[Illustration: ]


It has been asserted that Washington loved the wife of his friend George William Fairfax, but the evidence has not been produced. On the contrary, though the two corresponded, it was in a purely platonic fashion, very different from the strain of lovers, and that the correspondence implied nothing is to be found in the fact that he and Sally Carlyle (another Fairfax daughter) also wrote each other quite as frequently and on the same friendly footing; indeed, Washington evidently classed them in the same category, when he stated that “I have wrote to my two female correspondents.” Thus the claim seems due, like many another of Washington’s mythical love-affairs, rather to the desire of descendants to link their family “to a star” than to more substantial basis. Washington did, indeed, write to Sally Fairfax from the frontier, “I should think our time more agreeably spent, believe me, in playing a part in Cato, with the company you mention, and myself doubly happy in being the Juba to such a Marcia, as you must make,” but private theatricals then no more than now implied “passionate love.” What is more, Mrs. Fairfax was at this very time teasing him about another woman, and to her hints Washington replied,—

“If you allow that any honor can be derived from my opposition … you destroy the merit of it entirely in me by attributing my anxiety to the animating prospect of possessing Mrs. Custis, when—I need not tell you, guess yourself. Should not my own Honor and country’s welfare be the excitement? ’Tis true I profess myself a votary of love. I acknowledge that a lady is in the case, and further I confess that this lady is known to you. Yes, Madame, as well as she is to one who is too sensible of her charms to deny the Power whose influence he feels and must ever submit to. I feel the force of her amiable beauties in the recollection of a thousand tender passages that I could wish to obliterate, till I am bid to revive them. But experience, alas! sadly reminds me how impossible this is, and evinces an opinion which I have long entertained that there is a Destiny which has the control of our actions, not to be resisted by the strongest efforts of Human Nature. You have drawn me, dear Madame, or rather I have drawn myself, into an honest confession of a simple Fact. Misconstrue not my meaning; doubt it not, nor expose it. The world has no business to know the object of my Love, declared in this manner to you, when I want to conceal it. One thing above all things in this world I wish to know, and only one person of your acquaintance can solve me that, or guess my meaning.”

The love-affair thus alluded to had begun in March, 1758, when ill health had taken Washington to Williamsburg to consult physicians, thinking, indeed, of himself as a doomed man. In this trip he met Mrs. Martha (Dandridge) Custis, widow of Daniel Parke Custis, one of the wealthiest planters of the colony. She was at this time twenty-six years of age, or Washington’s senior by nine months, and had been a widow but seven, yet in spite of this fact, and of his own expected “decay,” he pressed his love-making with an impetuosity akin to that with which he had urged his suit of Miss Philipse, and (widows being proverbial) with better success. The invalid had left Mount Vernon on March 5, and by April 1 he was back at Fort Loudon, an engaged man, having as well so far recovered his health as to be able to join his command. Early in May he ordered a ring from Philadelphia, at a cost of £2.16.0; soon after receiving it he found that army affairs once more called him down to Williamsburg, and, as love-making is generally considered a military duty, the excuse was sufficient. But sterner duties on the frontier were awaiting him, and very quickly he was back there and writing to his fiancée,—

“We have begun our march for the Ohio. A courier is starting for Williamsburg, and I embrace the opportunity to send a few words to one whose life is now inseparable from mine. Since that happy hour when we made our pledges to each other, my thoughts have been continually going to you as another Self. That an all-powerful Providence may keep us both in safety is the prayer of your ever faithful and affectionate friend.”

Five months after this letter was written, Washington was able to date another from Fort Duquesne, and, the fall of that post putting an end to his military service, only four weeks later he was back in Williamsburg, and on January 6, 1759, he was married.

Very little is really known of his wife, beyond the facts that she was petite, over-fond, hot-tempered, obstinate, and a poor speller. In 1778 she was described as “a sociable, pretty kind of woman,” and she seems to have been but little more. One who knew her well described her as “not possessing much sense, though a perfect lady and remarkably well calculated for her position,” and confirmatory of this is the opinion of an English traveller that “there was nothing remarkable in the person of the lady of the President; she was matronly and kind, with perfect good breeding.” None the less she satisfied Washington; even after the proverbial six months were over he refused to wander from Mount Vernon, writing that “I am now, I believe, fixed at this seat with an agreeable Consort for life,” and in 1783 he spoke of her as the “partner of all my Domestic enjoyments.”

John Adams, in one of his recurrent moods of bitterness and jealousy towards Washington, demanded, “Would Washington have ever been commander of the revolutionary army or president of the United States if he had not married the rich widow of Mr. Custis?” To ask such a question is to overlook the fact that Washington’s colonial military fame was entirely achieved before his marriage. It is not to be denied that the match was a good one from a worldly point of view, Mrs. Washington’s third of the Custis property equalling “fifteen thousand acres of land, a good part of it adjoining the city of Williamsburg; several lots in the said city; between two and three hundred negroes; and about eight or ten thousand pounds upon bond,” estimated at the time as about twenty thousand pounds in all, which was further increased on the death of Patsy Custis in 1773 by a half of her fortune, which added ten thousand pounds to the sum. Nevertheless the advantage was fairly equal, for Mrs. Custis’s lawyer had written before her marriage of the impossibility of her managing the property, advising that she “employ a trusty steward, and as the estate is large and very extensive, it is Mr. Wallers and my own opinion, that you had better not engage any but a very able man, though he should require large wages.” Of the management of this property, to which, indeed, she was unequal, Washington entirely relieved her, taking charge also of her children’s share and acting for their interests with the same care with which he managed the part he was more directly concerned in.

He further saved her much of the detail of ordering her own clothing, and we find him sending for “A Salmon-colored Tabby of the enclosed pattern, with satin flowers, to be made in a sack,” “1 Cap, Handkerchief, Tucker and Ruffles, to be made of Brussels lace or point, proper to wear with the above negligee, to cost £20,” “1 pair black, and 1 pair white Satin Shoes, of the smallest,” and “1 black mask.” Again he writes his London agent, “Mrs. Washington sends home a green sack to get cleaned, or fresh dyed of the same color; made up into a handsome sack again, would be her choice; but if the cloth won’t afford that, then to be thrown into a genteel Night Gown.” At another time he wants a pair of clogs, and when the wrong kind are sent he writes that “she intended to have leathern Gloshoes.” When she was asked to present a pair of colors to a company, he attended to every detail of obtaining the flag, and when “Mrs. Washington … perceived the Tomb of her Father … to be much out of Sorts” he wrote to get a workman to repair it. The care of the Mount Vernon household proving beyond his wife’s ability, a housekeeper was very quickly engaged, and when one who filled this position was on the point of leaving, Washington wrote his agent to find another without the least delay, for the vacancy would “throw a great additional weight on Mrs. Washington;” again, writing in another domestic difficulty, “Your aunt’s distresses for want of a good housekeeper are such as to render the wages demanded by Mrs. Forbes (though unusually high) of no consideration.” Her letters of form, which required better orthography than she was mistress of, he draughted for her, pen-weary though he was.

It has already been shown how he fathered her “little progeny,” as he once called them. Mrs. Washington was a worrying mother, as is shown by a letter to her sister, speaking of a visit in which “I carried my little patt with me and left Jacky at home for a trial to see how well I could stay without him though we were gon but wone fortnight I was quite impatient to get home. If I at aney time heard the doggs barke or a noise out, I thought thair was a person sent for me. I often fancied he was sick or some accident had happened to him so that I think it is impossible for me to leave him as long as Mr. Washington must stay when he comes down.” To spare her anxiety, therefore, when the time came for “Jacky” to be inoculated, Washington “withheld from her the information … & purpose, if possible, to keep her in total ignorance … till I hear of his return, or perfect recovery;… she having often wished that Jack wou’d take & go through the disorder without her knowing of it, that she might escape those Tortures which suspense wd throw her into.” And on the death of Patsy he wrote, “This sudden and unexpected blow, I scarce need add has almost reduced my poor Wife to the lowest ebb of Misery; which is encreas’d by the absence of her son.”

When Washington left Mount Vernon, in May, 1775, to attend the Continental Congress, he did not foresee his appointment as commander-in-chief, and as soon as it occurred he wrote his wife,—

“I am now set down to write to you on a subject, which fills me with inexpressible concern, and this concern is greatly aggravated and increased, when I reflect upon the uneasiness I know it will give you. It has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the defence of the American cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the command of it.

“You may believe me, my dear Patsey, when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity, and that I should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you at home, than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad, if my stay were to be seven times seven years…. I shall feel no pain from the toil or danger of the campaign; my unhappiness will flow from the uneasiness I know you will feel from being left alone.”

To prevent this loneliness as far as possible, he wrote at the same time to different members of the two families as follows:

“My great concern upon this occasion is, the thought of leaving your mother under the uneasiness which I fear this affair will throw her into; I therefore hope, expect, and indeed have no doubt, of your using every means in your power to keep up her spirits, by doing everything in your power to promote her quiet. I have, I must confess, very uneasy feelings on her account, but as it has been a kind of unavoidable necessity which has led me into this appointment, I shall more readily hope that success will attend it and crown our meetings with happiness.”

“I entreat you and Mrs. Bassett if possible to visit at Mt. Vernon, as also my wife’s other friends. I could wish you to take her down, as I have no expectation of returning till winter & feel great uneasiness at her lonesome situation.”

“I shall hope that my friends will visit and endeavor to keep up the spirits of my wife, as much as they can, as my departure will, I know, be a cutting stroke upon her; and on this account alone I have many very disagreeable sensations. I hope you and my sister, (although the distance is great), will find as much leisure this summer as to spend a little time at Mount Vernon.”

When, six months later, the war at Boston settled into a mere siege, Washington wrote that “seeing no prospect of returning to my family and friends this winter, I have sent an invitation to Mrs. Washington to come to me,” adding, “I have laid a state of difficulties, however, which must attend the journey before her, and left it to her own choice.” His wife replied in the affirmative, and one of Washington’s aides presently wrote concerning some prize goods to the effect that “There are limes, lemons and oranges on board, which, being perishable, you must sell immediately. The General will want some of each, as well of the sweetmeats and pickles that are on board, as his lady will be here to-day or to-morrow. You will please to pick up such things on board as you think will be acceptable to her, and send them as soon as possible; he does not mean to receive anything without payment.”

Lodged at head-quarters, then the Craigie house in Cambridge, the discomforts of war were reduced to a minimum, but none the less it was a trying time to Mrs. Washington, who complained that she could not get used to the distant cannonading, and she marvelled that those about her paid so little heed to it. With the opening of the campaign in the following summer she returned to Mount Vernon, but when the army was safely in winter quarters at Valley Forge she once more journeyed northward, a trip alluded to by Washington in a letter to Jack, as follows: “Your Mamma is not yet arrived, but … expected every hour. [My aide] Meade set off yesterday (as soon as I got notice of her intention) to meet her. We are in a dreary kind of place, and uncomfortably provided.” And of this reunion Mrs. Washington wrote, “I came to this place, some time about the first of February where I found the General very well,… in camp in what is called the great valley on the Banks of the Schuylkill. Officers and men are chiefly in Hutts, which they say is tolerably comfortable; the army are as healthy as can be well expected in general. The General’s apartment is very small; he has had a log cabin built to dine in, which has made our quarters much more tolerable than they were at first”

Such “winterings” became the regular custom, and brief references in various letters serve to illustrate them. Thus, in 1779, Washington informed a friend that “Mrs. Washington, according to custom marched home when the campaign was about to open;” in July, 1782, he noted that his wife “sets out this day for Mount Vernon,” and later in the same year he wrote, “as I despair of seeing my home this Winter, I have sent for Mrs. Washington;” and finally, in a letter he draughted for his wife, he made her describe herself as “a kind of perambulator, during eight or nine years of the war.”

Another pleasant glimpse during these stormy years is the couple, during a brief stay in Philadelphia, being entertained almost to death, described as follows by Franklin’s daughter in a letter to her father: “I have lately been several times abroad with the General and Mrs. Washington. He always inquires after you in the most affectionate manner, and speaks of you highly. We danced at Mrs. Powell’s your birthday, or night I should say, in company together, and he told me it was the anniversary of his marriage; it was just twenty years that night” Again there was junketing in Philadelphia after the surrender at Yorktown, and one bit of this is shadowed in a line from Washington to Robert Morris, telling the latter that “Mrs. Washington, myself and family, will have the honor of dining with you in the way proposed, to-morrow, being Christmas day.”

With the retirement to Mount Vernon at the close of the war, little more companionship was obtained, for, as already stated, Washington could only describe his home henceforth as a “well resorted tavern,” and two years after his return he entered in his diary, “Dined with only Mrs. Washington which I believe is the first instance of it since my retirement from public life.”

Even this was only a furlough, for in six years they were both in public life again. Mrs. Washington was inclined to sulk over the necessary restraints of official life, writing to a friend, “Mrs. Sins will give you a better account of the fashions than I can—I live a very dull life hear and know nothing that passes in the town—I never goe to any public place—indeed I think I am more like a State prisoner than anything else; there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from—and as I cannot doe as I like, I am obstinate and stay at home a great deal.”

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None the less she did her duties well, and in these “Lady Washington” was more at home, for, according to Thacher, she combined “in an uncommon degree, great dignity of manner with most pleasing affability,” though possessing “no striking marks of beauty,” and there is no doubt that she lightened Washington’s shoulders of social demands materially. At the receptions of Mrs. Washington, which were held every Friday evening, so a contemporary states, “the President did not consider himself as visited. On these occasions he appeared as a private gentleman, with neither hat nor sword, conversing without restraint.”

From other formal society Mrs. Washington also saved her husband, for a visitor on New Year’s tells of her setting “‘the General’ (by which title she always designated her husband)” at liberty: “Mrs. Washington had stood by his side as the visitors arrived and were presented, and when the clock in the hall was heard striking nine, she advanced and with a complacent smile said, ‘The General always retires at nine, and I usually precede him,’ upon which all arose, made their parting salutations, and withdrew.” Nor was it only from the fatigues of formal entertaining that the wife saved her husband, Washington writing in 1793, “We remain in Philadelphia until the 10th instant. It was my wish to have continued there longer; but as Mrs. Washington was unwilling to leave me surrounded by the malignant fever which prevailed, I could not think of hazarding her, and the Children any longer by my continuance in the City, the house in which we live being in a manner blockaded by the disorder, and was becoming every day more and more fatal; I therefore came off with them.”

Finally from these “scenes more busy, tho’ not more happy, than the tranquil enjoyment of rural life,” they returned to Mount Vernon, hoping that in the latter their “days will close.” Not quite three years of this life brought an end to their forty years of married life. On the night that Washington’s illness first became serious his secretary narrates that “Between 2 and 3 o’clk on Saturday morning he [Washington] awoke Mrs. Washington & told her he was very unwell, and had had an ague. She … would have got up to call a servant; but he would not permit her lest she should take cold.” As a consequence of this care for her, her husband lay for nearly four hours in a chill in a cold bedroom before receiving any attention, or before even a fire was lighted. When death came, she said, “Tis well—All is now over—I have no more trials to pass through—I shall soon follow him.” In his will he left “to my dearly beloved wife” the use of his whole property, and named her an executrix.

As a man’s views of matrimony are more or less colored by his personal experience, what Washington had to say on the institution is of interest. As concerned himself he wrote to his nephew, “If Mrs. Washington should survive me, there is a moral certainty of my dying without issue: and should I be the longest liver, the matter in my opinion, is hardly less certain; for while I retain the faculty of reasoning, I shall never marry a girl; and it is not probable that I should have children by a woman of an age suitable to my own, should I be disposed to enter into a second marriage.” And in a less personal sense he wrote to Chastellux,—

“In reading your very friendly and acceptable letter,… I was, as you may well suppose, not less delighted than surprised to meet the plain American words, ‘my wife.’ A wife! Well, my dear Marquis, I can hardly refrain from smiling to find you are caught at last. I saw, by the eulogium you often made on the happiness of domestic life in America, that you had swallowed the bait, and that you would as surely be taken, one day or another, as that you were a philosopher and a soldier. So your day has at length come. I am glad of it, with all my heart and soul. It is quite good enough for you. Now you are well served for coming to fight in favor of the American rebels, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, by catching that terrible contagion—domestic felicity—which same, like the small pox or the plague, a man can have only once in his life; because it commonly lasts him (at least with us in America—I don’t know how you manage these matters in France) for his whole life time. And yet after all the maledictions you so richly merit on the subject, the worst wish which I can find in my heart to make against Madame de Chastellux and yourself is, that you may neither of you ever get the better of this same domestic felicity during the entire course of your mortal existence.”

Furthermore, he wrote to an old friend, whose wife stubbornly refused to sign a deed, “I think, any Gentleman, possessed of but a very moderate degree of influence with his wife, might, in the course of five or six years (for I think it is at least that time) have prevailed upon her to do an act of justice, in fulfiling his Bargains and complying with his wishes, if he had been really in earnest in requesting the matter of her; especially, as the inducement which you thought would have a powerful operation on Mrs. Alexander, namely the birth of a child, has been doubled, and tripled.”

However well Washington thought of “the honorable state,” he was no match-maker, and when asked to give advice to the widow of Jack Custis, replied, “I never did, nor do I believe I ever shall, give advice to a woman, who is setting out on a matrimonial voyage; first, because I never could advise one to marry without her own consent; and, secondly because I know it is to no purpose to advise her to refrain, when she has obtained it. A woman very rarely asks an opinion or requires advice on such an occasion, till her resolution is formed; and then it is with the hope and expectation of obtaining a sanction, not that she means to be governed by your disapprobation, that she applies. In a word the plain English of the application may be summed up in these words: ‘I wish you to think as I do; but, if unhappily you differ from me in opinion, my heart, I must confess, is fixed, and I have gone too far now to retract.’” Again he wrote:

“It has ever been a maxim with me through life, neither to promote nor to prevent a matrimonial connection, unless there should be something indispensably requiring interference in the latter. I have always considered marriage as the most interesting event of one’s life, the foundation of happiness or misery. To be instrumental therefore in bringing two people together, who are indifferent to each other, and may soon become objects of disgust; or to prevent a union, which is prompted by the affections of the mind, is what I never could reconcile with reason, and therefore neither directly nor indirectly have I ever said a word to Fanny or George, upon the subject of their intended connection.”

The question whether Washington was a faithful husband might well be left to the facts already given, were it not that stories of his immorality are bandied about in clubs, a well-known clergyman has vouched for their truth, and a United States senator has given further currency to them by claiming special knowledge on the subject. Since such are the facts, it seems best to consider the question and show what evidence there actually is for these stories, that at least the pretended “letters,” etc., which are always being cited, and are never produced, may no longer have credence put in them, and the true basis for all the stories may be known and valued at its worth.

In the year 1776 there was printed in London a small pamphlet entitled “Minutes of the Trial and Examination of Certain Persons in the Province of New York,” which purported to be the records of the examination of the conspirators of the “Hickey plot” (to murder Washington) before a committee of the Provincial Congress of New York. The manuscript of this was claimed in the preface to have been “discovered (on the late capture of New York by the British troops) among the papers of a person who appears to have been secretary to the committee.” As part of the evidence the following was printed:

“William Cooper, soldier, sworn.

“Court. Inform us what conversation you heard at the Serjeant’s Arms?

“Cooper. Being there the 21st of May, I heard John Clayford inform the company, that Mary Gibbons was thoroughly in their interest, and that the whole would be safe. I learnt from enquiry that Mary Gibbons was a girl from New Jersey, of whom General Washington was very fond, that he maintained her genteelly at a house near Mr. Skinner’s,—at the North River; that he came there very often late at night in disguise; he learnt also that this woman was very intimate with Clayford, and made him presents, and told him of what General Washington said.

“Court. Did you hear Mr. Clayford say any thing himself that night?

“Cooper. Yes; that he was the day before with Judith, so he called her, and that she told him, Washington had often said he wished his hands were clear of the dirty New-Englanders, and words to that effect.

“Court. Did you hear no mention made of any scheme to betray or seize him?

“Cooper. Mr. Clayford said he could easily be seized and put on board a boat, and carried off, as his female friend had promised she would assist: but all present thought it would be hazardous.”

“William Savage, sworn.

“Court. Was you at the Serjeant’s Arms on the 21st of May? Did you hear any thing of this nature?

“Savage. I did, and nearly as the last evidence has declared; the society in general refused to be concerned in it, and thought it a mad scheme.

“Mr. Abeel. Pray, Mr. Savage, have not you heard nothing of an information that was to be given to Governor Tryon?

“Savage. Yes; papers and letters were at different times shewn to the society, which were taken out of General Washington’s pockets by Mrs. Gibbons, and given (as she pretended some occasion of going out) to Mr. Clayford, who always copied them, and they were put into his pockets again.”

The authenticity of this pamphlet thus becomes of importance, and over this little time need be spent. The committee named in it differs from the committee really named by the Provincial Congress, and the proceedings nowhere implicate the men actually proved guilty. In other words, the whole publication is a clumsy Tory forgery, put forward with the same idle story of “captured papers” employed in the “spurious letters” of Washington, and sent forth from the same press (J. Bew) from which that forgery and several others issued.

The source from which the English fabricator drew this scandal is fortunately known. In 1775 a letter to Washington from his friend Benjamin Harrison was intercepted by the British, and at once printed broadcast in the newspapers. In this the writer gossips to Washington “to amuse you and unbend your minds from the cares of war,” as follows: “As I was in the pleasing task of writing to you, a little noise occasioned me to turn my head around, and who should appear but pretty little Kate, the Washer-woman’s daughter over the way, clean, trim and as rosy as the morning. I snatched the golden, glorious opportunity, and, but for the cursed antidote to love, Sukey, I had fitted her for my general against his return. We were obliged to part, but not till we had contrived to meet again: if she keeps the appointment, I shall relish a week’s longer stay.” From this originated the stories of Washington’s infidelity as already given, and also a coarser version of the same, printed in 1776 in a Tory farce entitled “The Battle of Brooklyn.”

Jonathan Boucher, who knew Washington well before the Revolution, yet who, as a loyalist, wrote in no friendly spirit of him, asserted that “in his moral character, he is regular.” A man who disliked him far more, General Charles Lee, in the excess of his hatred, charged Washington in 1778 with immorality,—a rather amusing impeachment, since at the very time Lee was flaunting the evidence of his own incontinence without apparent shame,—and a mutual friend of the accused and accuser, Joseph Reed, whose service on Washington’s staff enabled him to speak wittingly, advised that Lee “forbear any Reflections upon the Commander in Chief, of whom for the first time I have heard Slander on his private Character, viz., great cruelty to his Slaves in Virginia & Immorality of Life, tho’ they acknowledge so very secret that it is difficult to detect. To me who have had so good opportunities to know the Purity of the latter & equally believing the Falsehood of the former from the known excellence of his disposition, it appears so nearly bordering upon frenzy, that I can pity the wretches rather than despise them.”

Washington was too much of a man, however, to have his marriage lessen his liking for other women; and Yeates repeats that “Mr. Washington once told me, on a charge which I once made against the President at his own Table, that the admiration he warmly professed for Mrs. Hartley, was a Proof of his Homage to the worthy Part of the Sex, and highly respectful to his Wife.” Every now and then there is an allusion in his letters which shows his appreciation of beauty, as when he wrote to General Schuyler, “Your fair daughter, for whose visit Mrs. Washington and myself are greatly obliged,” and again, to one of his aides, “The fair hand, to whom your letter … was committed presented it safe.”

His diary, in the notes of the balls and assemblies which he attended, usually had a word for the sex, as exampled in: “at which there were between 60 & 70 well dressed ladies;” “at which there was about 100 well dressed and handsome ladies;” “at which were 256 elegantly dressed ladies;” “where there was a select Company of ladies;” “where (it is said) there were upwards of 100 ladies; their appearance was elegant, and many of them very handsome;” “at wch. there were about 400 ladies the number and appearance of wch. exceeded anything of the kind I have ever seen;” “where there were about 75 well dressed, and many of them very handsome ladies—among whom (as was also the case at the Salem and Boston assemblies) were a greater proportion with much blacker hair than are usually seen in the Southern States.”

At his wife’s receptions, as already said, Washington did not view himself as host, and “conversed without restraint, generally with women, who rarely had other opportunity of seeing him,” which perhaps accounts for the statement of another eye-witness that Washington “looked very much more at ease than at his own official levees.” Sullivan adds that “the young ladies used to throng around him, and engaged him in conversation. There were some of the well-remembered belles of the day who imagined themselves to be favorites with him. As these were the only opportunities which they had of conversing with him, they were disposed to use them.” In his Southern trip of 1791 Washington noted, with evident pleasure, that he “was visited about 2 o’clock, by a great number of the most respectable ladies of Charleston—the first honor of the kind I had ever experienced and it was flattering as it was singular.” And that this attention was not merely the respect due to a great man is shown in the letter of a Virginian woman, who wrote to her correspondent in 1777, that when “General Washington throws off the Hero and takes up the chatty agreeable Companion—he can be down right impudent sometimes—such impudence, Fanny, as you and I like.”

Another feminine compliment paid him was a highly laudatory poem which was enclosed to him, with a letter begging forgiveness, to which he playfully answered,—

“You apply to me, my dear Madam, for absolution as tho’ I was your father Confessor; and as tho’ you had committed a crime, great in itself, yet of the venial class. You have reason good—for I find myself strangely disposed to be a very indulgent ghostly adviser on this occasion; and, notwithstanding ‘you are the most offending Soul alive’ (that is, if it is a crime to write elegant Poetry,) yet if you will come and dine with me on Thursday, and go thro’ the proper course of penitence which shall be prescribed I will strive hard to assist you in expiating these poetical trespasses on this side of purgatory. Nay more, if it rests with me to direct your future lucubrations, I shall certainly urge you to a repetition of the same conduct, on purpose to shew what an admirable knack you have at confession and reformation; and so without more hesitation, I shall venture to command the muse, not to be restrained by ill-grounded timidity, but to go on and prosper. You see, Madam, when once the woman has tempted us, and we have tasted the forbidden fruit, there is no such thing as checking our appetites, whatever the consequences may be. You will, I dare say, recognize our being the genuine Descendants of those who are reputed to be our great Progenitors.”

Nor was Washington open only to beauty and flattery. From the rude frontier in 1756 he wrote, “The supplicating tears of the women,… melt me into such deadly sorrow, that I solemnly declare, if I know my own mind, I could offer myself a willing sacrifice to the butchering enemy, provided that would contribute to the people’s ease.” And in 1776 he said, “When I consider that the city of New York will in all human probability very soon be the scene of a bloody conflict, I cannot but view the great numbers of women, children, and infirm persons remaining in it, with the most melancholy concern. When the men-of-war passed up the river, the shrieks and cries of these poor creatures running every way with their children, were truly distressing…. Can no method be devised for their removal?”

Nevertheless, though liked by and liking the fair sex, Washington was human, and after experience concluded that “I never again will have two women in my house when I am there myself.”


The earliest known Washington coat of arms had blazoned upon it “3 Cinque foiles,” which was the herald’s way of saying that the bearer was a landholder and cultivator, and when Washington had a book-plate made for himself he added to the conventional design of the arms spears of wheat and other plants, as an indication of his favorite labor. During his career he acted several parts, but in none did he find such pleasure as in farming, and late in life he said, “I think with you, that the life of a husbandman of all others is the most delectable. It is honorable, it is amusing, and, with judicious management, it is profitable. To see plants rise from the earth and flourish by the superior skill and bounty of the laborer fills a contemplative mind with ideas which are more easy to be conceived than expressed.” “Agriculture has ever been the most favorite amusement of my life,” he wrote after the Revolution, and he informed another correspondent that “the more I am acquainted with agricultural affairs, the better pleased I am with them; insomuch, that I can no where find so great satisfaction as in those innocent and useful pursuits: In indulging these feelings, I am led to reflect how much more delightful to an undebauched mind is the task of making improvements on the earth, than all the vain glory which can be acquired from ravaging it, by the most uninterrupted career of conquests.” A visitor to Mount Vernon in 1785 states that his host’s “greatest pride is, to be thought the first farmer in America. He is quite a Cincinnatus.”

Undoubtedly a part of this liking flowed from his strong affection for Mount Vernon. Such was his feeling for the place that he never seems to have been entirely happy away from it, and over and over again, during his various and enforced absences, he “sighs” or “pants” for his “own vine and fig tree.” In writing to an English correspondent, he shows his feeling for the place by saying, “No estate in United America, is more pleasantly situated than this. It lies in a high, dry and healthy country, three hundred miles by water from the sea, and, as you will see by the plan, on one of the finest rivers in the world.”

The history of the Mount Vernon estate begins in 1674, when Lord Culpepper conveyed to Nicholas Spencer and Lieutenant-Colonel John Washington five thousand acres of land “scytuate Lying and being within the said terrytory in the County of Stafford in the ffreshes of the Pottomocke River and … bounded betwixt two Creeks.” Colonel John’s half was bequeathed to his son Lawrence, and by Lawrence’s will it was left to his daughter Mildred. She sold it to the father of George, who by his will left it to his son Lawrence, with a reversion to George should Lawrence die without issue. The original house was built about 1740, and the place was named Mount Vernon by Lawrence, in honor of Admiral Vernon, under whom he had served at Carthagena. After the death of Lawrence, the estate of twenty-five hundred acres came under Washington’s management, and from 1754 it was his home, as it had been practically even in his brother’s life.

Twice Washington materially enlarged the house at Mount Vernon, the first time in 1760 and the second in 1785, and a visitor reports, what his host must have told him, that “its a pity he did not build a new one at once, for it has cost him nearly as much to repair his old one.” These alterations consisted in the addition of a banquet-hall at one end (by far the finest room in the house), and a library and dining-room at the other, with the addition of an entire story to the whole.

The grounds, too, were very much improved. A fine approach, or bowling green, was laid out, a “botanical garden,” a “shrubbery,” and greenhouses were added, and in every way possible the place was improved. A deer paddock was laid out and stocked, gifts of Chinese pheasants and geese, French partridges, and guinea-pigs were sent him, and were gratefully acknowledged, and from all the world over came curious, useful, or beautiful plants.

The original tract did not satisfy the ambition of the farmer, and from the time he came into the possession of Mount Vernon he was a persistent purchaser of lands adjoining the property. In 1760 he bargained with one Clifton for “a tract called Brents,” of eighteen hundred and six acres, but after the agreement was closed the seller, “under pretence of his wife not consenting to acknowledge her right of dower wanted to disengage himself … and by his shuffling behavior convinced me of his being the trifling body represented.” Presently Washington heard that Clifton had sold his lands to another for twelve hundred pounds, which “fully unravelled his conduct … and convinced me that he was nothing less than a thorough pac’d rascall.” Meeting the “rascall” at a court, “much discourse,” Washington states, “happened between him and I concerning his ungenerous treatment of me, the whole turning to little account, ’tis not worth reciting.” After much more friction, the land was finally sold at public auction, and “I bought it for £1210 Sterling, [and] under many threats and disadvantages paid the money.”

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In 1778, when some other land was offered, Washington wrote to his agent, “I have premised these things to shew my inability, not my unwillingness to purchase the Lands in my own Neck at (almost) any price—& this I am very desirous of doing if it could be accomplished by any means in my power, in ye way of Barter for other Land—for Negroes … or in short—for any thing else … but for money I cannot, I want the means.” Again, in 1782, he wrote, “Inform Mr. Dulany,… that I look upon £2000 to be a great price for his land; that my wishes to obtain it do not proceed from its intrinsic value, but from the motives I have candidly assigned in my other letter. That to indulge this fancy, (for in truth there is more fancy than judgment in it) I have submitted, or am willing to submit, to the disadvantage of borrowing as large a sum as I think this Land is worth, in order to come at it”

By thus purchasing whenever an opportunity occurred, the property was increased from the twenty-five hundred acres which had come into Washington’s possession by inheritance to an estate exceeding eight thousand acres, of which over thirty-two hundred were actually under cultivation during the latter part of its owner’s life.

To manage so vast a tract, the property was subdivided into several tracts, called “Mansion House Farm,” “River Farm,” “Union Farm,” “Muddy Hole Farm,” and “Dogue Run Farm,” each having an overseer to manage it, and each being operated as a separate plantation, though a general overseer controlled the whole, and each farm derived common benefit from the property as a whole. “On Saturday in the afternoon, every week, reports are made by all his overseers, and registered in books kept for the purpose,” and these accounts were so schemed as to show how every negro’s and laborer’s time had been employed during the whole week, what crops had been planted or gathered, what increase or loss of stock had occurred, and every other detail of farm-work. During Washington’s absences from Mount Vernon his chief overseer sent him these reports, as well as wrote himself, and weekly the manager received in return long letters of instruction, sometimes to the length of sixteen pages, which showed most wonderful familiarity with every acre of the estate and the character of every laborer, and are little short of marvellous when account is taken of the pressure of public affairs that rested upon their writer as he framed them.

When Washington became a farmer, but one system of agriculture, so far as Virginia was concerned, existed, which he described long after as follows:

“A piece of land is cut down, and kept under constant cultivation, first in tobacco, and then in Indian corn (two very exhausting plants), until it will yield scarcely any thing; a second piece is cleared, and treated in the same manner; then a third and so on, until probably there is but little more to clear. When this happens, the owner finds himself reduced to the choice of one of three things—either to recover the land which he has ruined, to accomplish which, he has perhaps neither the skill, the industry, nor the means; or to retire beyond the mountains; or to substitute quantity for quality, in order to raise something. The latter has been generally adopted, and, with the assistance of horses, he scratches over much ground, and seeds it, to very little purpose.”

Knowing no better, Washington adopted this one-crop system, even to the extent of buying corn and hogs to feed his hands. Though following in the beaten track, he experimented in different kinds of tobacco, so that, “by comparing then the loss of the one with the extra price of the other, I shall be able to determine which is the best to pursue.” The largest crop he ever seems to have produced, “being all sweet-scented and neatly managed,” was one hundred and fifteen hogsheads, which averaged in sale twelve pounds each.

From a very early time Washington had been a careful student of such books on agriculture as he could obtain, even preparing lengthy abstracts of them, and the knowledge he thus obtained, combined with his own practical experience, soon convinced him that the Virginian system was wrong. “I never ride on my plantations,” he wrote, “without seeing something which makes me regret having continued so long in the ruinous mode of farming, which we are in,” and he soon “discontinued the growth of tobacco myself; [and] except at a plantation or two upon York River, I make no more of that article than barely serves to furnish me with goods.”

From this time (1765) “the whole of my force [was] in a manner confined to the growth of wheat and manufacturing of it into flour,” and before long he boasted that “the wheat from some of my plantations, by one pair of steelyards, will weigh upwards of sixty pounds,… and better wheat than I now have I do not expect to make.” After the Revolution he claimed that “no wheat that has ever yet fallen under my observation exceeds the wheat which some years ago I cultivated extensively but which, from inattention during my absence of almost nine years from home, has got so mixed or degenerated as scarcely to retain any of its original characteristics properly.” In 1768 he was able to sell over nineteen hundred bushels, and how greatly his product was increased after this is shown by the fact that in this same year he sowed four hundred and ninety bushels.

Still further study and experimentation led him to conclude that “my countrymen are too much used to corn blades and corn shucks; and have too little knowledge of the profit of grass lands,” and after his final home-coming to Mount Vernon, he said, “I have had it in contemplation ever since I returned home to turn my farms to grazing principally, as fast as I can cover the fields sufficiently with grass. Labor and of course expence will be considerably diminished by this change, the nett profit as great and my attention less divided, whilst the fields will be improving.” That this was only an abandonment of a “one crop” system is shown by the fact that in 1792 he grew over five thousand bushels of wheat, valued at four shillings the bushel, and in 1799 he said, “as a farmer, wheat and flour are my principal concerns.” And though, in abandoning the growth of tobacco, Washington also tried “to grow as little Indian corn as may be,” yet in 1795 his crop was over sixteen hundred barrels, and the quantity needed for his own negroes and stock is shown in a year when his crop failed, which “obliged me to purchase upwards of eight hundred barrels of corn.”

In connection with this change of system, Washington became an early convert to the rotation of crops, and drew up elaborate tables sometimes covering periods of five years, so that the quantity of each crop should not vary, yet by which his fields should have constant change. This system naturally very much diversified the product of his estate, and flax, hay, clover, buckwheat, turnips, and potatoes became large crops. The scale on which this was done is shown by the facts that in one year he sowed twenty-seven bushels of flaxseed and planted over three hundred bushels of potatoes.

Early and late Washington preached to his overseers the value of fertilization; in one case, when looking for a new overseer, he said the man must be, “above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards gold;—in a word one who can bring worn out and gullied Lands into good tilth in the shortest time.” Equally emphatic was his urging of constant ploughing and grubbing, and he even invented a deep soil plough, which he used till he found a better one in the English Rotheran plough, which he promptly imported, as he did all other improved farming tools and machinery of which he could learn. To save his woodlands, and for appearance’s sake, he insisted on live fences, though he had to acknowledge that “no hedge, alone, will, I am persuaded, do for an outer inclosure, where two or four footed hogs find it convenient to open passage.” In all things he was an experimentalist, carefully trying different kinds of tobacco and wheat, various kinds of plants for hedges, and various kinds of manure for fertilizers; he had tests made to see whether he could sell his wheat to best advantage in the grain or when made into flour, and he bred from selected horses, cattle, and sheep. “In short I shall begrudge no reasonable expence that will contribute to the improvement and neatness of my Farms;—for nothing pleases me better than to see them in good order, and everything trim, handsome, and thriving about them.”

The magnitude of the charge of such an estate can be better understood when the condition of a Virginia plantation is realized. Before the Revolution practically everything the plantation could not produce was ordered yearly from Great Britain, and after the annual delivery of the invoices the estate could look for little outside help. Nor did this change rapidly after the Revolution, and during the period of Washington’s management almost everything was bought in yearly supplies. This system compelled each plantation to be a little world unto itself; indeed, the three hundred souls on the Mount Vernon estate went far to make it a distinct and self-supporting community, and one of Washington’s standing orders to his overseers was to “buy nothing you can make within yourselves.” Thus the planting and gathering of the crops were but a small part of the work to be done.

A corps of workmen—some negroes, some indentured servants, and some hired laborers—were kept on the estate. A blacksmith-shop occupied some, doing not merely the work of the plantation, but whatever business was brought to them from outside; and a wood-burner kept them and the mansion-house supplied with charcoal. A gang of carpenters were kept busy, and their spare time was utilized in framing houses to be put up in Alexandria, or in the “Federal city,” as Washington was called before the death of its namesake. A brick-maker, too, was kept constantly employed, and masons utilized the product of his labor. The gardener’s gang had charge of the kitchen-garden, and set out thousands of grape-vines, fruit-trees, and hedge-plants.

A water-mill, with its staff, not merely ground meal for the hands, but produced a fine flour that commanded extra price in the market In 1786 Washington asserted that his flour was “equal, I believe, in quality to any made in this country,” and the Mount Vernon brand was of such value that some money was made by buying outside wheat and grinding it into flour. The coopers of the estate made the barrels in which it was packed, and Washington’s schooner carried it to market.

The estate had its own shoemaker, and in time a staff of weavers was trained. Before this was obtained, in 1760, though with only a modicum of the force he presently had, Washington ordered from London “450 ells of Osnabrig, 4 pieces of Brown Wools, 350 yards of Kendall Cotton, and 100 yards of Dutch blanket.” By 1768 he was manufacturing the chief part of his requirements, for in that year his weavers produced eight hundred and fifteen and three-quarter yards of linen, three hundred and sixty-five and one-quarter yards of woollen, one hundred and forty-four yards of linsey, and forty yards of cotton, or a total of thirteen hundred and sixty-five and one-half yards, one man and five negro girls having been employed. When once the looms were well organized an infinite variety of cloths was produced, the accounts mentioning “striped woollen, woolen plaided, cotton striped, linen, wool-birdseye, cotton filled with wool, linsey, M.’s & O.’s, cotton-India dimity, cotton jump stripe, linen filled with tow, cotton striped with silk, Roman M., Janes twilled, huccabac, broadcloth, counterpain, birdseye diaper, Kirsey wool, barragon, fustian, bed-ticking, herring-box, and shalloon.”

One of the most important features of the estate was its fishery, for the catch, salted down, largely served in place of meat for the negroes’ food. Of this advantage Washington wrote, “This river,… is well supplied with various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year; and, in the spring, with the greatest profusion of shad, herrings, bass, carp, perch, sturgeon, &c. Several valuable fisheries appertain to the estate; the whole shore, in short, is one entire fishery.” Whenever there was a run of fish, the seine was drawn, chiefly for herring and shad, and in good years this not merely amply supplied the home requirements, but allowed of sales; four or five shillings the thousand for herring and ten shillings the hundred for shad were the average prices, and sales of as high as eighty-five thousand herring were made in a single year.

In 1795, when the United States passed an excise law, distilling became particularly profitable, and a still was set up on the plantation. In this whiskey was made from “Rye chiefly and Indian corn in a certain proportion,” and this not merely used much of the estate’s product of those two grains, but quantities were purchased from elsewhere. In 1798 the profit from the distillery was three hundred and forty-four pounds twelve shillings and seven and three-quarter pence, with a stock carried over of seven hundred and fifty-five and one-quarter gallons; but this was the most successful year. Cider, too, was made in large quantities.

A stud stable was from an early time maintained, and the Virginia papers regularly advertised that the stud horse “Samson,” “Magnolia,” “Leonidas,” “Traveller,” or whatever the reigning stallion of the moment might be, would “cover” mares at Mount Vernon, with pasturage and a guarantee of foal, if their owners so elected. During the Revolution Washington bought twenty-seven of the army mares that had been “worn-down so as to render it beneficial to the public to have them sold,” not even objecting to those “low in flesh or even crippled,” because “I have many large Farms and am improving a good deal of Land into Meadow and Pasture, which cannot fail of being profited by a number of Brood Mares.” In addition to the stud, there were, in 1793, fifty-four draught horses on the estate.

A unique feature of this stud was the possession of two jackasses, of which the history was curious. At that time there was a law in Spain (where the best breed was to be found) which forbade the exportation of asses, but the king, hearing of Washington’s wish to possess a jack, sent him one of the finest obtainable as a present, which was promptly christened “Royal Gift.” The sea-voyage and the change of climate, however, so affected him that for a time he proved of little value to his owner, except as a source of amusement, for Washington wrote Lafayette, “The Jack I have already received from Spain in appearance is fine, but his late Royal master, tho’ past his grand climacteric cannot be less moved by female allurements than he is; or when prompted, can proceed with more deliberation and majestic solemnity to the work of procreation.” This reluctance to play his part Washington concluded was a sign of aristocracy, and he wrote a nephew, “If Royal Gift will administer, he shall be at the service of your Mares, but at present he seems too full of Royalty, to have anything to do with a plebeian Race,” and to Fitzhugh he said, “particular attention shall be paid to the mares which your servant brought, and when my Jack is in the humor, they shall derive all the benefit of his labor, for labor it appears to be. At present tho’ young, he follows what may be supposed to be the example of his late Royal Master, who can not, tho’ past his grand climacteric, perform seldomer or with more majestic solemnity than he does. However I am not without hope that when he becomes a little better acquainted with republican enjoyment, he will amend his manners, and fall into a better and more expeditious mode of doing business.” This fortunately proved to be the case, and his master not merely secured such mules as he needed for his own use, but gained from him considerable profit by covering mares in the neighborhood. He even sent him on a tour through the South, and Royal Gift passed a whole winter in Charleston, South Carolina, with a resulting profit of six hundred and seventy-eight dollars to his owner. In 1799 there were on the estate “2 Covering Jacks & 3 young ones, 10 she asses, 42 working mules and 15 younger ones.”

Of cattle there were in 1793 a total of three hundred and seventeen head, including “a sufficiency of oxen broke to the yoke,” and a dairy was operated separate from the farms, and some butter was made, but Washington had occasion to say, “It is hoped, and will be expected, that more effectual measures will be pursued to make butter another year; for it is almost beyond belief, that from 101 cows actually reported on a late enumeration of the cattle, that I am obliged to buy butter for the use of my family.”

Sheep were an unusual adjunct of a Virginia plantation, and of his flock Washington wrote, “From the beginning of the year 1784 when I returned from the army, until shearing time of 1788, I improved the breed of my sheep so much by buying and selecting the best formed and most promising Rams, and putting them to my best ewes, by keeping them always well culled and clean, and by other attentions, that they averaged me … rather over than under five pounds of washed wool each.” In another letter he said, “I … was proud in being able to produce perhaps the largest mutton and the greatest quantity of wool from my sheep that could be produced. But I was not satisfied with this; and contemplated further improvements both in the flesh and wool by the introduction of other breeds, which I should by this time have carried into effect, had I been permitted to pursue my favorite occupation.” In 1789, however, “I was again called from home, and have not had it in my power since to pay any attention to my farms. The consequence of which is, that my sheep at the last shearing, yielded me not more than 2-1/2” pounds. In 1793 he had six hundred and thirty-four in his flock, from which he obtained fourteen hundred and-fifty-seven pounds of fleece. Of hogs he had “many,” but “as these run pretty much at large in the woodland, the number is uncertain.” In 1799 his manager valued his entire live-stock at seven thousand pounds.

A separate account was kept of each farm, and of many of these separate departments, and whenever there was a surplus of any product an account was opened to cover it. Thus in various years there are accounts raised dealing with cattle, hay, flour, flax, cord-wood, shoats, fish, whiskey, pork, etc., and his secretary, Shaw, told a visitor that the “books were as regular as any merchant whatever.” It is proper to note, however, that sometimes they would not balance, and twice at least Washington could only force one, by entering “By cash supposed to be paid away & not credited £17.6.2,” and “By cash lost, stolen or paid away without charging £143.15.2.” All these accounts were tabulated at the end of the year and the net results obtained. Those for a single year are here given:


Dr. gained.

Dogue Run Farm397.11.02
Union Farm529.10.11½
River Farm234. 4.11
Smith’s Shop34.12.09½
Traveller (studhorse)9.17

Cr. lost.

Mansion House466.18.02½
Muddy Hole Farm60.01.03½
Hire of head-overseer140.00.0

By Clear gain on the Estate £ 898.16.4¼

A pretty poor showing for an estate and negroes which had certainly cost him over fifty thousand dollars, and on which there was livestock which at the lowest estimation was worth fifteen thousand dollars more. It is not strange that in 1793 Washington attempted to find tenants for all but the Mansion farm. This he reserved for my “own residence, occupation and amusement,” as Washington held that “idleness is disreputable,” and in 1798 he told his chief overseer he did not choose to “discontinue my rides or become a cipher on my own estate.”

When at Mount Vernon, as this indicated, Washington rode daily about his estate, and he has left a pleasant description of his life immediately after retiring from the Presidency: “I begin my diurnal course with the sun;… if my hirelings are not in their places at that time I send them messages expressive of my sorrow for their indisposition;… having put these wheels in motion, I examine the state of things further; and the more they are probed, the deeper I find the wounds are which my buildings have sustained by my absence and neglect of eight years; by the time I have accomplished these matters, breakfast (a little after seven o’clock)… is ready;… this being over, I mount my horse and ride round my farms, which employs me until it is time to dress for dinner.” A visitor at this time is authority for the statement that the master “often works with his men himself—strips off his coat and labors like a common man. The General has a great turn for mechanics. It’s astonishing with what niceness he directs everything in the building way, condescending even to measure the things himself, that all may be perfectly uniform.”

This personal attention Washington was able to give only with very serious interruptions. From 1754 till 1759 he was most of the time on the frontier; for nearly nine years his Revolutionary service separated him absolutely from his property; and during the two terms of his Presidency he had only brief and infrequent visits. Just one-half of his forty-six years’ occupancy of Mount Vernon was given to public service.

The result was that in 1757 he wrote, “I am so little acquainted with the business relative to my private affairs that I can scarce give you any information concerning it,” and this was hardly less true of the whole period of his absences. In 1775 he engaged overseers to manage his various estates in his absence “upon shares,” but during the whole war the plantations barely supported themselves, even with depletion of stock and fertility, and he was able to draw nothing from them. One overseer, and a confederate, he wrote, “I believe, divided the profits of my Estate on the York River, tolerably betwn. them, for the devil of any thing do I get.” Well might he advise knowingly that “I have no doubt myself but that middling land under a man’s own eyes, is more profitable than rich land at a distance.” “No Virginia Estate (except a very few under the best of management) can stand simple Interest,” he declared, and went even further when he wrote, “the nature of a Virginia Estate being such, that without close application, it never fails bringing the proprietors in Debt annually.” “To speak within bounds,” he said, “ten thousand pounds will not compensate the losses I might have avoided by being at home, & attending a little to my own concerns” during the Revolution.

Fortunately for the farmer, the Mount Vernon estate was but a small part of his property. His father had left him a plantation of two hundred and eighty acres on the Rappahannock, “one Moiety of my Land lying on Deep Run,” three lots in Frederick “with all the houses and Appurtenances thereto belonging,” and one quarter of the residuary estate. While surveying for Lord Fairfax in 1748, as part of his compensation Washington patented a tract of five hundred and fifty acres in Frederick County, which he always spoke of as “My Bull-skin plantation.”

As a military bounty in the French and Indian War the governor of Virginia issued a proclamation granting Western lands to the soldiers, and under this Washington not merely secured fifteen thousand acres in his own right, but by buying the claims of some of his fellow officers doubled that quantity. A further tract was also obtained under the kindred proclamation of 1763, “5000 Acres of Land in my own right, & by purchase from Captn. Roots, Posey, & some other officers, I obtained rights to several thousand more.” In 1786, after sales, he had over thirty thousand acres, which he then offered to sell at thirty thousand guineas, and in 1799, when still more had been sold, his inventory valued the holdings at nearly three hundred thousand dollars.

In addition, Washington was a partner in several great land speculations,—the Ohio Company, the Walpole Grant, the Mississippi Company, the Military Company of Adventures, and the Dismal Swamp Company; but all these ventures except the last collapsed at the beginning of the Revolution and proved valueless. His interest in the Dismal Swamp Company he held at the time of his death, and it was valued in the inventory at twenty thousand dollars.

The properties that came to him from his brother Lawrence and with his wife have already been described. It may be worth noting that with the widow of Lawrence there was a dispute over the will, but apparently it was never carried into the courts, and that owing to the great depreciation of paper money during the Revolution the Custis personal property was materially lessened, for “I am now receiving a shilling in the pound in discharge of Bonds which ought to have been paid me, & would have been realized before I left Virginia, but for my indulgences to the debtors,” Washington wrote, and in 1778 he said, “by the comparitive worth of money, six or seven thousand pounds which I have in Bonds upon Interest is now reduced to as many hundreds because I can get no more for a thousand at this day than a hundred would have fetched when I left Virginia, Bonds, debts, Rents, &c. undergoing no change while the currency is depreciating in value and for ought I know may in a little time be totally sunk.” Indeed, in 1781 he complained “that I have totally neglected all my private concerns, which are declining every day, and may, possibly, end in capital losses, if not absolute ruin, before I am at liberty to look after them.”

In 1784 he became partner with George Clinton in some land purchases in the State of New York with the expectation of buying the “mineral springs at Saratoga; and … the Oriskany tract, on which Fort Schuyler stands.” In this they were disappointed, but six thousand acres in the Mohawk valley were obtained “amazingly cheap.” Washington’s share cost him, including interest, eighteen hundred and seventy-five pounds, and in 1793 two-thirds of the land had been sold for three thousand four hundred pounds, and in his inventory of 1799 Washington valued what he still held of the property at six thousand dollars.

In 1790, having inside information that the capital was to be removed from New York to Philadelphia, Washington tried to purchase a farm near that city, foreseeing a speedy rise in value. In this apparently he did not succeed. Later he purchased lots in the new Federal city, and built houses on two of them. He also had town lots in Williamsburg, Alexandria, Winchester, and Bath. In addition to all this property there were many smaller holdings. Much was sold or traded, yet when he died, besides his wife’s real estate and the Mount Vernon property, he possessed fifty-one thousand three hundred and ninety-five acres, exclusive of town property. A contemporary said “that General Washington is, perhaps, the greatest landholder in America.”

All these lands, except Mount Vernon, were, so far as possible, rented, but the net income was not large. Rent agents were employed to look after the tenants, but low rents, war, paper money, a shifting population, and Washington’s dislike of lawsuits all tended to reduce the receipts, and the landlord did not get simple interest on his investments. Thus, in 1799 he complains of slow payments from tenants in Washington and Lafayette Counties (Pennsylvania). Instead of an expected six thousand dollars, due June 1, but seventeen hundred dollars were received.

Income, however, had not been his object in loading himself with such a vast property, as Washington believed that he was certain to become rich. “For proof of” the rise of land, he wrote in 1767, “only look to Frederick, [county] and see what fortunes were made by the … first taking up of those lands. Nay, how the greatest estates we have in this colony were made. Was it not by taking up and purchasing at very low rates the rich back lands, which were thought nothing of in those days, but are now the most valuable land we possess?”

In this he was correct, but in the mean time he was more or less land-poor. To a friend in 1763 he wrote that the stocking and repairing of his plantations “and other matters … swallowed up before I well knew where I was, all the moneys I got by marriage, nay more, brought me in debt” In 1775, replying to a request for a loan, he declared that “so far am I from having £200 to lend … I would gladly borrow that sum myself for a few months.” When offered land adjoining Mount Vernon for three thousand pounds in 1778, he could only reply that it was “a sum I have little chance, if I had inclination, to pay; & therefore would not engage it, as I am resolved not to incumber myself with Debt.” In 1782, to secure a much desired tract he was forced to borrow two thousand pounds York currency at the rate of seven per cent.

In 1788, “the total loss of my crop last year by the drought” “with necessary demands for cash” “have caused me much perplexity and given me more uneasiness than I ever experienced before from want of money,” and a year later, just before setting out to be inaugurated, he tried to borrow five hundred pounds “to discharge what I owe” and to pay the expenses of the journey to New York, but was “unable to obtain more than half of it, (though it was not much I required), and this at an advanced interest with other rigid conditions,” though at this time “could I get in one fourth part of what is due me on Bonds” “without the intervention of suits” there would have been ample funds. In 1795 the President said, “my friends entertain a very erroneous idea of my particular resources, when they set me down for a money lender, or one who (now) has a command of it. You may believe me when I assert that the bonds which were due to me before the Revolution, were discharged during the progress of it—with a few exceptions in depreciated paper (in some instances as low as a shilling in the pound). That such has been the management of the Estate, for many years past, especially since my absence from home, now six years, as scarcely to support itself. That my public allowance (whatever the world may think of it) is inadequate to the expence of living in this City; to such an extravagant height has the necessaries as well as the conveniences of life arisen. And, moreover that to keep myself out of debt; I have found it expedient now and then to sell Lands, or something else to effect this purpose.”

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As these extensive land ventures bespoke a national characteristic, so a liking for other forms of speculation was innate in the great American. During the Revolution he tried to secure an interest in a privateer. One of his favorite flyers was chances in lotteries and raffles, which, if now found only in association with church fairs, were then not merely respectable, but even fashionable. In 1760 five pounds and ten shillings were invested in one lottery. Five pounds purchased five tickets in Strother’s lottery in 1763. Three years later six pounds were risked in the York lottery and produced prizes to the extent of sixteen pounds. Fifty pounds were put into Colonel Byrd’s lottery in 1769, and drew a half-acre lot in the town of Manchester, but out of this Washington was defrauded. In 1791 John Potts was paid four pounds and four shillings “in part for 20 Lottery tickets in the Alexa. street Lottery at 6/ each, 14 Dollrs. the Bal. was discharged by 2.3 Lotr prizes.” Twenty tickets of Peregrine and Fitzhugh’s lottery cost one hundred and eighty-eight dollars in 1794. And these are but samples of innumerable instances. So, too, in raffles, the entries are constant,—“for glasses 20/,” “for a Necklace £1.,” “by profit & loss in two chances in raffling for Encyclopadia Britannica, which I did not win £1.4,” two tickets were taken in the raffle of Mrs. Dawson’s coach, as were chances for a pair of silver buckles, for a watch, and for a gun; such and many others were smaller ventures Washington took.

There were other sources of income or loss besides. Before the Revolution he had a good sized holding of Bank of England stock, and an annuity in the funds, besides considerable property on bond, the larger part of which, as already noted, was liquidated in depreciated paper money. This paper money was for the most part put into United States securities, and eventually the “at least £10,000 Virginia money” proved to be worth six thousand two hundred and forty-six dollars in government six per cents and three per cents. A great believer in the Potomac Canal Company, Washington invested twenty-four hundred pounds sterling in the stock, which produced no income, and in time showed a heavy shrinkage. Another and smaller loss was an investment in the James River Canal Company. Stock holdings in the Bank of Columbia and in the Bank of Alexandria proved profitable investments.

None the less Washington was a successful businessman. Though his property rarely produced a net income, and though he served the public with practically no profit (except as regards bounty lands), and thus was compelled frequently to dip into his capital to pay current expenses, yet, from being a surveyor only too glad to earn a doubloon (seven dollars and forty cents) a day, he grew steadily in wealth, and when he died his property, exclusive of his wife’s and the Mount Vernon estate, was valued at five hundred and thirty thousand dollars. This made him one of the wealthiest Americans of his time, and it is to be questioned if a fortune was ever more honestly acquired or more thoroughly deserved.


In his “rules of civility” Washington enjoined that “those of high Degree ought to treat” “Artificers & Persons of low Degree” “with affibility & Courtesie, without Arrogancy,” and it was a needed lesson to every young Virginian, for, as Jefferson wrote, “the whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most insulting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.”

Augustine Washington’s will left to his son George “Ten negro Slaves,” with an additional share of those “not herein particularly Devised,” but all to remain in the possession of Mary Washington until the boy was twenty-one years of age. With his taking possession of the Mount Vernon estate in his twenty-second year eighteen more came under Washington’s direction. In 1754 he bought a “fellow” for £40.5, another (Jack) for £52.5, and a negro woman (Clio) for £50. In 1756 he purchased of the governor a negro woman and child for £60, and two years later a fellow (Gregory) for £60.9. In the following year (the year of his marriage) he bought largely: a negro (Will) for £50; another for £60; nine for £406, an average of £45; and a woman (Hannah) and child, £80. In 1762 he added to the number by purchasing seven of Lee Massey for £300 (an average of £43), and two of Colonel Fielding Lewis at £115, or £57.10 apiece. From the estate of Francis Hobbs he bought, in 1764, Ben, £72; Lewis, £36.10; and Sarah, £20. Another fellow, bought of Sarah Alexander, cost him £76; and a negro (Judy) and child, sold by Garvin Corbin, £63. In 1768 Mary Lee sold him two mulattoes (Will and Frank) for £61.15 and £50, respectively; and two boys (negroes), Adam and Frank, for £19 apiece. Five more were purchased in 1772, and after that no more were bought. In 1760 Washington paid tithes on forty-nine slaves, five years later on seventy-eight, in 1770 on eighty-seven, and in 1774 on one hundred and thirty-five; besides which must be included the “dower slaves” of his wife. Soon after this there was an overplus, and Washington in 1778 offered to barter for some land “Negroes, of whom I every day long more to get clear of,” and even before this he had learned the economic fact that except on the richest of soils slaves “only add to the Expence.”

In 1791 he had one hundred and fifteen “hands” on the Mount Vernon estate, besides house servants, and De Warville, describing his estate in the same year, speaks of his having three hundred negroes. At this time Washington declared that “I never mean (unless some particular circumstance compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase,” but this intention was broken, for “The running off of my cook has been a most inconvenient thing to this family, and what rendered it more disagreeable, is that I had resolved never to become the Master of another slave by purchase, but this resolution I fear I must break. I have endeavored to hire, black or white, but am not yet supplied.”

A few more slaves were taken in payment of a debt, but it was from necessity rather than choice, for at this very time Washington had decided that “it is demonstratively clear, that on this Estate (Mount Vernon) I have more working negros by a full moiety, than can be employed to any advantage in the farming system, and I shall never turn Planter thereon. To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species. To hire them out, is almost as bad, because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to disperse the families I have an aversion. What then is to be done? Something must or I shall be ruined; for all the money (in addition to what I raise by crops, and rents) that have been received for Lands, sold within the last four years, to the amount of Fifty thousand dollars, has scarcely been able to keep me afloat.” And writing of one set he said, “it would be for my interest to set them free, rather than give them victuals and cloaths.”

The loss by runaways was not apparently large. In October, 1760, his ledger contains an item of seven shillings “To the Printing Office … for Advertising a run-a-way Negro.” In 1761 he pays his clergyman, Rev. Mr. Green, “for taking up one of my Runaway Negroes £4.” In 1766 rewards are paid for the “taking upp” of “Negro Tom” and “Negro Bett.” The “taking up of Harry when Runaway” in 1771 cost £1.16. When the British invaded Virginia in 1781, a number escaped or were carried away by the enemy. By the treaty of peace these should have been returned, and their owner wrote, “Some of my own slaves, and those of Mr. Lund Washington who lives at my house may probably be in New York, but I am unable to give you their description—their names being so easily changed, will be fruitless to give you. If by chance you should come at the knowledge of any of them, I will be much obliged by your securing them, so that I may obtain them again.”

In 1796 a girl absconded to New England, and Washington made inquiries of a friend as to the possibility of recovering her, adding, “however well disposed I might be to a gradual abolition, or even to an entire emancipation of that description of people (if the latter was in itself practicable) at this moment, it would neither be politic nor just to reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference, and thereby discontent beforehand the minds of all her fellow servants, who, by their steady attachment, are far more deserving than herself of favor,” and at this time Washington wrote to a relative, “I am sorry to hear of the loss of your servant; but it is my opinion these elopements will be much more, before they are less frequent; and that the persons making them should never be retained—if they are recovered, as they are sure to contaminate and discontent others.”

Another source of loss was sickness, which, in spite of all Washington could do, made constant inroads on the numbers. A doctor to care for them was engaged by the year, and in the contracts with his overseers clauses were always inserted that each was “to take all necessary and proper care of the Negroes committed to his management using them with proper humanity and descretion,” or that “he will take all necessary and proper care of the negroes committed to his management, treating them with humanity and tenderness when sick, and preventing them when well, from running about and visiting without his consent; as also forbid strange negroes frequenting their quarters without lawful excuses for so doing.”

Furthermore, in writing to his manager, while absent from Mount Vernon, Washington reiterated that “although it is last mentioned it is foremost in my thoughts, to desire you will be particularly attentive to my negros in their sickness; and to order every overseer positively to be so likewise; for I am sorry to observe that the generality of them view these poor creatures in scarcely any other light than they do a draught horse or ox; neglecting them as much when they are unable to work; instead of comforting and nursing them when they lye on a sick bed.” And in another letter he added, “When I recommended care of, and attention to my negros in sickness, it was that the first stage of, and the whole progress through the disorders with which they might be seized (if more than a slight indisposition) should be closely watched, and timely applications and remedies be administered; especially in the pleurisies, and all inflammatory disorders accompanied with pain, when a few days’ neglect, or want of bleeding might render the ailment incurable. In such cases sweeten’d teas, broths and (according to the nature of the complaint, and the doctor’s prescription) sometimes a little wine, may be necessary to nourish and restore the patient; and these I am perfectly willing to allow, when it is requisite. My fear is, as I expressed to you in a former letter, that the under overseers are so unfeeling, in short viewing the negros in no other light than as a better kind of cattle, the moment they cease to work, they cease their care of them.”

At Mount Vernon his care for the slaves was more personal. At a time when the small-pox was rife in Virginia he instructed his overseer “what to do if the Small pox should come amongst them,” and when he “received letters from Winchester, informing me that the Small pox had got among my quarters in Frederick; [I] determin’d … to leave town as soon as possible, and proceed up to them…. After taking the Doctors directions in regard to my people … I set out for my quarters about 12 oclock, time enough to go over them and found every thing in the utmost confusion, disorder and backwardness…. Got Blankets and every other requisite from Winchester, and settl’d things on the best footing I cou’d, … Val Crawford agreeing if any of those at the upper quarter got it, to have them remov’d into my room and the Nurse sent for.”

Other sickness was equally attended to, as the following entries in his diary show: “visited my Plantations and found two negroes sick … ordered them to be blooded;” “found that lightening had struck my quarters and near 10 Negroes in it, some very bad but with letting blood they recover’d;” “ordered Lucy down to the House to be Physikd,” and “found the new negro Cupid, ill of a pleurisy at Dogue Run Quarter and had him brot home in a cart for better care of him…. Cupid extremely Ill all this day and at night when I went to bed I thought him within a few hours of breathing his last.”

This matter of sickness, however, had another phase, which caused Washington much irritation at times when he could not personally look into the cases, but heard of them through the reports of his overseers. Thus, he complained on one occasion, “I find by reports that Sam is, in a manner, always returned sick; Doll at the Ferry, and several of the spinners very frequently so, for a week at a stretch; and ditcher Charles often laid up with lameness. I never wish my people to work when they are really sick, or unfit for it; on the contrary, that all necessary care should be taken of them when they are so; but if you do not examine into their complaints, they will lay by when no more ails them, than all those who stick to their business, and are not complaining from the fatigue and drowsiness which they feel as the effect of night walking and other practices which unfit them for the duties of the day.” And again he asked, “Is there anything particular in the cases of Ruth, Hannah and Pegg, that they have been returned sick for several weeks together? Ruth I know is extremely deceitful; she has been aiming for some time past to get into the house, exempt from work; but if they are not made to do what their age and strength will enable them, it will be a bad example for others—none of whom would work if by pretexts they can avoid it”

Other causes than running away and death depleted the stock. One negro was taken by the State for some crime and executed, an allowance of sixty-nine pounds being made to his master. In 1766 an unruly negro was shipped to the West Indies (as was then the custom), Washington writing the captain of the vessel,—

“With this letter comes a negro (Tom) which I beg the favor of you to sell in any of the islands you may go to, for whatever he will fetch, and bring me in return for him
        “One hhd of best molasses
        “One ditto of best rum
        “One barrel of lymes, if good and cheap
        “One pot of tamarinds, containing about 10 lbs.
        “Two small ditto of mixed sweetmeats, about 5 lbs. each.
And the residue, much or little, in good old spirits. That this fellow is both a rogue and a runaway (tho’ he was by no means remarkable for the former, and never practised the latter till of late) I shall not pretend to deny. But that he is exceeding healthy, strong, and good at the hoe, the whole neighborhood can testify, and particularly Mr. Johnson and his son, who have both had him under them as foreman of the gang; which gives me reason to hope he may with your good management sell well, if kept clean and trim’d up a little when offered for sale.”

Another “misbehaving fellow” was shipped off in 1791, and was sold for “one pipe and Quarter Cask of wine from the West Indies.” Sometimes only the threat of such riddance was used, as when an overseer complained of one slave, and his master replied, “I am very sorry that so likely a fellow as Matilda’s Ben should addict himself to such courses as he is pursuing. If he should be guilty of any atrocious crime, that would effect his life, he might be given up to the civil authority for trial; but for such offences as most of his color are guilty of, you had better try further correction, accompanied with admonition and advice. The two latter sometimes succeed where the first has failed. He, his father and mother (who I dare say are his receivers) may be told in explicit language, that if a stop is not put to his rogueries and other villainies, by fair means and shortly, that I will ship him off (as I did Wagoner Jack) for the West Indies, where he will have no opportunity of playing such pranks as he is at present engaged in.”

It is interesting to note, in connection with this conclusion, that “admonition and advice” were able to do what “correction” sometimes failed to achieve, that there is not a single order to whip, and that the above case, and that which follows, are the only known cases where punishment was approved. “The correction you gave Ben, for his assault on Sambo, was just and proper. It is my earnest desire that quarrels may be stopped or punishment of both parties follow, unless it shall appear clearly, that one only is to blame, and the other forced into [a quarrel] from self-defence.” In one other instance Washington wrote, “If Isaac had his deserts he would receive a severe punishment for the house, tools and seasoned stuff, which has been burned by his carelessness.” But instead of ordering the “deserts” he continued, “I wish you to inform him, that I sustain injury enough by their idleness; they need not add to it by their carelessness.”

This is the more remarkable, because his slaves gave him constant annoyance by their wastefulness and sloth and dishonesty. Thus, “Paris has grown to be so lazy and self-willed” that his master does not know what to with him; “Doll at the Ferry must be taught to knit, and made to do a sufficient day’s work of it—otherwise (if suffered to be idle) many more will walk in her steps”; “it is observed by the weekly reports, that the sewers make only six shirts a week, and the last week Carolina (without being sick) made only five. Mrs. Washington says their usual task was to make nine with shoulder straps and good sewing. Tell them therefore from me, that what has been done, shall be done”; “none I think call louder for [attention] than the smiths, who, from a variety of instances which fell within my own observation whilst I was at home, I take to be two very idle fellows. A daily account (which ought to be regularly) taken of their work, would alone go a great way towards checking their idleness.” And the overseer was told to watch closely “the people who are at work with the gardener, some of whom I know to be as lazy and deceitful as any in the world (Sam particularly).”

Furthermore, the overseers were warned to “endeavor to make the Servants and Negroes take care of their cloathes;” to give them “a weekly allowance of Meat … because the annual one is not taken care of but either profusely used or stolen”; and to note “the delivery to and the application of nails by the carpenters,… [for] I cannot conceive how it is possible that 6000 twelve penny nails could be used in the corn house at River Plantation; but of one thing I have no great doubt, and that is, if they can be applied to other uses, or converted into cash, rum or other things there will be no scruple in doing it.”

When robbed of some potatoes, Washington complained that “the deception … is of a piece with other practices of a similar kind by which I have suffered hitherto; and may serve to evince to you, in strong colors, first how little confidence can be placed in any one round you; and secondly the necessity of an accurate inspection into these things yourself,—for to be plain, Alexandria is such a recepticle for every thing that can be filched from the right owners, by either blacks or whites; and I have such an opinion of my negros (two or three only excepted), and not much better of some of the whites, that I am perfectly sure not a single thing that can be disposed of at any price, at that place, that will not, and is not stolen, where it is possible; and carried thither to some of the underlying keepers, who support themselves by this kind of traffick.” He dared not leave wine unlocked, even for the use of his guests, “because the knowledge I have of my servants is such, as to believe, that if opportunities are given them, they will take off two glasses of wine for every one that is drank by such visitors, and tell you they were used by them.” And when he had some work to do requiring very ordinary qualities, he had to confess that “I know not a negro among all mine, whose capacity, integrity and attention could be relied on for such a trust as this.”

Whatever his opinion of his slaves, Washington was a kind master. In one case he wrote a letter for one of them when the “fellow” was parted from his wife in the service of his master, and at another time he enclosed letters to a wife and to James’s “del Toboso,” for two of his servants, to save them postage. In reference to their rations he wrote, “whether this addition … is sufficient, I will not undertake to decide;—but in most explicit language I desire they may have plenty; for I will not have my feelings hurt with complaints of this sort, nor lye under the imputation of starving my negros, and thereby driving them to the necessity of thieving to supply the deficiency. To prevent waste or embezzlement is the only inducement to allowancing of them at all—for if, instead of a peck they could eat a bushel of meal a week fairly, and required it, I would not withhold or begrudge it them.” At Christmas-time there are entries in his ledger for whiskey or rum for “the negroes,” and towards the end of his life he ordered the overseer, “although others are getting out of the practice of using spirits at Harvest, yet, as my people have always been accustomed to it, a hogshead of Rum must be purchased; but I request at the same time, that it may be used sparingly.”

A greater kindness of his was, in 1787, when he very much desired a negro mason offered for sale, yet directed his agent that “if he has a family, with which he is to be sold; or from whom he would reluctantly part, I decline the purchase; his feelings I would not be the means of hurting in the latter case, nor at any rate be incumbered with the former.”

The kindness thus indicated bore fruit in a real attachment of the slaves for their master. In Humphreys’s poem on Washington the poet alluded to the negroes at Mount Vernon in the lines,—

“Where that foul stain of manhood, slavery, flow’d
Through Afric’s sons transmitted in the blood;
Hereditary slaves his kindness shar’d,
For manumission by degrees prepar’d:
Return’d from war, I saw them round him press,
And all their speechless glee by artless signs express.”

And in a foot-note the writer added, “The interesting scene of his return home, at which the author was present, is described exactly as it existed.”

A single one of these slaves deserves further notice. His body-servant “Billy” was purchased by Washington in 1768 for sixty-eight pounds and fifteen shillings, and was his constant companion during the war, even riding after his master at reviews; and this servant was so associated with the General that it was alleged in the preface to the “forged letters” that they had been captured by the British from “Billy,” “an old servant of General Washington’s.” When Savage painted his well-known “family group,” this was the one slave included in the picture. In 1784 Washington told his Philadelphia agent that “The mulatto fellow, William, who has been with me all the war, is attached (married he says) to one of his own color, a free woman, who during the war, was also of my family. She has been in an infirm condition for some time, and I had conceived that the connexion between them had ceased; but I am mistaken it seems; they are both applying to get her here, and tho’ I never wished to see her more, I cannot refuse his request (if it can be complied with on reasonable terms) as he has served me faithfully for many years. After premising this much, I have to beg the favor of you to procure her a passage to Alexandria.”

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When acting as chain-bearer in 1785, while Washington was surveying a tract of land, William fell and broke his knee-pan, “which put a stop to my surveying; and with much difficulty I was able to get him to Abington, being obliged to get a sled to carry him on, as he could neither walk, stand or ride.” From this injury Lee never quite recovered, yet he started to accompany his master to New York in 1789, only to give out on the road. He was left at Philadelphia, and Lear wrote to Washington’s agent that “The President will thank you to propose it to Will to return to Mount Vernon when he can be removed for he cannot be of any service here, and perhaps will require a person to attend upon him constantly. If he should incline to return to Mount Vernon, you will be so kind as to have him sent in the first Vessel that sails for Alexandria after he can be moved with safety—but if he is still anxious to come on here the President would gratify him, altho’ he will be troublesome—He has been an old and faithful Servant, this is enough for the President to gratify him in every reasonable wish.”

By his will Washington gave Lee his “immediate freedom or if he should prefer it (on account of the accidents which have befallen him and which have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active employment) to remain in the situation he now is, it shall be optional in him to do so— In either case however I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his natural life which shall be independent of the victuals and cloaths he has been accustomed to receive; if he chuses the last alternative, but in full with his freedom, if he prefers the first, and this I give him as a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War.”

Two small incidents connected with Washington’s last illness are worth noting. The afternoon before the night he was taken ill, although he had himself been superintending his affairs on horseback in the storm most of the day, yet when his secretary “carried some letters to him to frank, intending to send them to the Post Office in the evening,” Lear tells us “he franked the letters; but said the weather was too bad to send a servant up to the office that evening.” Lear continues, “The General’s servant, Christopher, attended his bed side & in the room, when he was sitting up, through his whole illness…. In the [last] afternoon the General observing that Christopher had been standing by his bed side for a long time—made a motion for him to sit in a chair which stood by the bed side.”

A clause in Washington’s will directed that

“Upon the decease of my wife it is my will and desire that all the slaves which I hold in my own right shall receive their freedom—To emancipate them during her life, would, tho’ earnestly wished by me, be attended with such insuperable difficulties, on account of their intermixture of marriages with the Dower negroes as to excite the most painful sensations—if not disagreeable consequences from the latter, while both descriptions are in the occupancy of the same proprietor, it not being in my power under the tenure by which the dower Negroes are held to manumit them—And whereas among those who will receive freedom according to this devise there may be some who from old age, or bodily infirmities & others who on account of their infancy, that will be unable to support themselves, it is my will and desire that all who come under the first and second description shall be comfortably cloathed and fed by my heirs while they live and that such of the latter description as have no parents living, or if living are unable or unwilling to provide for them, shall be bound by the Court until they shall arrive at the age of twenty five years…. The negroes thus bound are (by their masters and mistresses) to be taught to read and write and to be brought up to some useful occupation.”

In this connection Washington’s sentiments on slavery as an institution may be glanced at. As early as 1784 he replied to Lafayette, when told of a colonizing plan, “The scheme, my dear Marqs., which you propose as a precedent to encourage the emancipation of the black people of this Country from that state of Bondage in wch. they are held, is a striking evidence of the benevolence of your Heart. I shall be happy to join you in so laudable a work; but will defer going into a detail of the business, till I have the pleasure of seeing you.” A year later, when Francis Asbury was spending a day in Mount Vernon, the clergyman asked his host if he thought it wise to sign a petition for the emancipation of slaves. Washington replied that it would not be proper for him, but added, “If the Maryland Assembly discusses the matter; I will address a letter to that body on the subject, as I have always approved of it.”

When South Carolina refused to pass an act to end the slave-trade, he wrote to a friend in that State, “I must say that I lament the decision of your legislature upon the question of importing slaves after March 1793. I was in hopes that motives of policy as well as other good reasons, supported by the direful effects of slavery, which at this moment are presented, would have operated to produce a total prohibition of the importation of slaves, whenever the question came to be agitated in any State, that might be interested in the measure.” For his own State he expressed the “wish from my soul that the Legislature of this State could see the policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery; it would prev’t much future mischief.” And to a Pennsylvanian he expressed the sentiment, “I hope it will not be conceived from these observations, that it is my wish to hold the unhappy people, who are the subject of this letter, in slavery. I can only say, that there is not a man living, who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting.”

Washington by no means restricted himself to slave servitors. Early in life he took into his service John Alton at thirteen pounds per annum, and this white man served as his body-servant in the Braddock campaign, and Washington found in the march that “A most serious inconvenience attended me in my sickness, and that was the losing the use of my servant, for poor John Alton was taken about the same time that I was, and with nearly the same disorder, and was confined as long; so that we did not see each other for several days.” As elsewhere noticed, Washington succeeded to the services of Braddock’s body-servant, Thomas Bishop, on the death of the general, paying the man ten pounds a year.

These two were his servants in his trip to Boston in 1756, and in preparation for that journey Washington ordered his English agent to send him “2 complete livery suits for servants; with a spare cloak and all other necessary trimmings for two suits more. I would have you choose the livery by our arms, only as the field of the arms is white, I think the clothes had better not be quite so, but nearly like the inclosed. The trimmings and facings of scarlet, and a scarlet waist coat. If livery lace is not quite disused, I should be glad to have the cloaks laced. I like that fashion best, and two silver laced hats for the above servants.”

For some reason Bishop left his employment, but in 1760 Washington “wrote to my old servant Bishop to return to me again if he was not otherwise engaged,” and, the man being “very desirous of returning,” the old relation was reassumed. Alton in the mean time had been promoted to be overseer of one of the plantations. In 1785 their master noted in his diary, “Last night Jno Alton an Overseer of mine in the Neck—an old & faithful Servant who has lived with me 30 odd years died—and this evening the wife of Thos. Bishop, another old Servant who had lived with me an equal number of years also died.” Both were remembered in his will by a clause giving “To Sarah Green daughter of the deceased Thomas Bishop, and to Ann Walker, daughter of John Alton, also deceased I give each one hundred dollars, in consideration of the attachment of their father[s] to me, each of whom having lived nearly forty years in my family.”

Of Washington’s general treatment of the serving class a few facts can be gleaned. He told one of his overseers, in reference to the sub-overseers, that “to treat them civilly is no more than what all men are entitled to, but my advice to you is, to keep them at a proper distance; for they will grow upon familiarity, in proportion as you will sink in authority if you do not.” To a housekeeper he promised “a warm, decent and comfortable room to herself, to lodge in, and will eat of the victuals of our Table, but not set at it, or at any time with us be her appearance what it may; for if this was once admitted no line satisfactory to either party, perhaps could be drawn thereafter.”

In visiting he feed liberally, good examples of which are given in the cash account of the visit to Boston in 1756, when he “Gave to Servants on ye Road 10/.” “By Cash Mr. Malbones servants £4.0.0.” “The Chambermaid £1.2.6.” When the wife of his old steward, Fraunces, came to need, he gave her “for Charity £1.17.6.” The majority will sympathize rather than disapprove of his opinion when he wrote, “Workmen in most Countries I believe are necessary plagues;—-in this where entreaties as well as money must be used to obtain their work and keep them to their duty they baffle all calculation in the accomplishment of any plan or repairs they are engaged in;—and require more attention to and looking after than can be well conceived.”

The overseers of his many plantations, and his “master” carpenters, millers, and gardeners, were quite as great trials as his slaves. First “young Stephens” gave him much trouble, which his diary reports in a number of sententious entries: “visited my Plantation. Severely reprimanded young Stephens for his Indolence, and his father for suffering it;” “forbid Stephens keeping any horses upon my expence;” “visited my quarters & ye Mill, according to custom found young Stephens absent;” “visited my Plantation and found to my great surprise Stephens constantly at work;” “rid out to my Plantn. and to my Carpenters. Found Richard Stephens hard at work with an ax—Very extraordinary this!”

Again he records, “Visited my Plantations—found Foster had been absent from his charge since the 28th ulto. Left orders for him to come immediately to me upon his return, and repremanded him severely.” Of another, Simpson, “I never hear … without a degree of warmth & vexation at his extreme stupidity,” and elsewhere he expresses his disgust at “that confounded fellow Simpson.” A third spent all the fall and half the winter in getting in his crop, and “if there was any way of making such a rascal as Garner pay for such conduct, no punishment would be too great for him. I suppose he never turned out of mornings until the sun had warmed the earth, and if he did not, the negros would not.” His chief overseer was directed to “Let Mr. Crow know that I view with a very evil eye the frequent reports made by him of sheep dying;… frequent natural deaths is a very strong evidence to my mind of the want of care or something worse.”

Curious distinctions were made oftentimes. Thus, in the contract with an overseer, one clause was inserted to the effect, “And whereas there are a number of whiskey stills very contiguous to the said Plantations, and many idle, drunken and dissolute People continually resorting to the same, priding themselves in debauching sober and well-inclined Persons, the said Edd Voilett doth promise as well for his own sake as his employers to avoid them as he ought.” To the contrary, in hiring a gardener, it was agreed as part of the compensation that the man should have “four dollars at Christmas, with which he may be drunk for four days and four nights; two dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two dollars at Whitsuntide to be drunk for two days; a dram in the morning, and a drink of grog at dinner at noon.”

With more true kindness Washington wrote to one of his underlings, “I was very glad to receive your letter of the 31st ultimo, because I was afraid, from the accounts given me of your spitting blood,… that you would hardly have been able to have written at all. And it is my request that you will not, by attempting more than you are able to undergo, with safety and convenience, injure yourself, and thereby render me a disservice…. I had rather therefore hear that you had nursed than exposed yourself. And the things which I sent from this place (I mean the wine, tea, coffee and sugar) and such other matters as you may lay in by the doctor’s direction for the use of the sick, I desire you will make use of as your own personal occasions may require.”

Of one Butler he had employed to overlook his gardeners, but who proved hopelessly unfit, Washington said, “sure I am, there is no obligation upon me to retain him from charitable motives; when he ought rather to be punished as an imposter: for he well knew the services he had to perform, and which he promised to fulfil with zeal, activity, and intelligence.” Yet when the man was discharged his employer gave him a “character:” “If his activity, spirit, and ability in the management of Negroes, were equal to his honesty, sobriety and industry, there would not be the least occasion for a change,” and Butler was paid his full wages, no deduction being made for lost time, “as I can better afford to be without the money than he can.”

Another thoroughly incompetent man was one employed to take charge of the negro carpenters, of whom his employer wrote, “I am apprehensive … that Green never will overcome his propensity to drink; that it is this which occasions his frequent sickness, absences from work and poverty. And I am convinced, moreover, that it answers no purpose to admonish him.” Yet, though “I am so well satisfied of Thomas Green’s unfitness to look after Carpenters,” for a time “the helpless situation in which you find his family, has prevailed on me to retain him,” and when he finally had to be discharged for drinking, Washington said, “Nothing but compassion for his helpless family, has hitherto induced me to keep him a moment in my service (so bad is the example he sets); but if he has no regard for them himself, it is not to be expected that I am to be a continual sufferer on this account for his misconduct.” His successor needed the house the family lived in, but Washington could not “bear the thought of adding to the distress I know they must be in, by turning them adrift;… It would be better therefore on all accounts if they were removed to some other place, even if I was to pay the rent, provided it was low, or make some allowance towards it.”

To many others, besides family, friends, and employees, Washington was charitable. From an early date his ledger contains frequent items covering gifts to the needy. To mention a tenth of them would take too much space, but a few typical entries are worth quoting:

“By Cash gave a Soldiers wife 5/;” “To a crippled man 5/;” “Gave a man who had his House Burnt £1.;” “By a begging woman /5;” “By Cash gave for the Sufferers at Boston by fire £12;” “By a wounded soldier 10/;” “Alexandria Academy, support of a teacher of Orphan children £50;” “By Charity to an invalid wounded Soldier who came from Redston with a petition for Charity 18/;” “Gave a poor man by the President’s order $2;” “Delivd to the President to send to two distress’d french women at Newcastle $25;” “Gave Pothe a poor old man by the President’s order $2;” “Gave a poor sailor by the Presdt order $1;” “Gave a poor blind man by the Presdt order $1.50;” “By Madame de Seguer a french Lady in distress gave her $50;” “By Subscription paid to Mr. Jas. Blythe towards erecting and Supporting an Academy in the State of Kentucky $100;” “By Subscription towards an Academy in the South Western Territory $100;” “By Charity sent Genl Charles Pinckney in Columbus Bank Notes, for the sufferers by the fire in Charleston So. Carolina $300;” “By Charity gave to the sufferers by fire in Geo. Town $10;” “By an annual Donation to the Academy at Alexandria pd. Dr. Cook $166.67;” “By Charity to the poor of Alexandria deld. to the revd. Dr. Muir $100.”

To an overseer he said, concerning a distant relative, “Mrs. Haney should endeavor to do what she can for herself—this is a duty incumbent on every one; but you must not let her suffer, as she has thrown herself upon me; your advances on this account will be allowed always, at settlement; and I agree readily to furnish her with provisions, and for the good character you give of her daughter make the latter a present in my name of a handsome but not costly gown, and other things which she may stand most in need of. You may charge me also with the worth of your tenement in which she is placed, and where perhaps it is better she should be than at a great distance from your attentions to her.”

After the terrible attack of fever in Philadelphia in 1793, Washington wrote to a clergyman of that city,—

“It has been my intention ever since my return to the city, to contribute my mite towards the relief of the most needy inhabitants of it. The pressure of public business hitherto has suspended, but not altered my resolution. I am at a loss, however, for whose benefit to apply the little I can give, and in whose hands to place it; whether for the use of the fatherless children and widows, made so by the late calamity, who may find it difficult, whilst provisions, wood, and other necessaries are so dear, to support themselves; or to other and better purposes, if any, I know not, and therefore have taken the liberty of asking your advice. I persuade myself justice will be done to my motives for giving you this trouble. To obtain information, and to render the little I can afford, without ostentation or mention of my name, are the sole objects of these inquiries. With great and sincere esteem and regard, I am, &c.”

His adopted grandson he advised to “never let an indigent person ask, without receiving something if you have the means; always recollecting in what light the widow’s mite was viewed.” And when he took command of the army in 1775, the relative who took charge of his affairs was told to “let the hospitality of the house, with respect to the poor, be kept up. Let no one go hungry away. If any of this kind of people should be in want of corn, supply their necessities, provided it does not encourage them in idleness; and I have no objection to your giving my money in charity, to the amount of forty or fifty pounds a year, when you think it well bestowed. What I mean by having no objection is, that it is my desire that it should be done. You are to consider, that neither myself nor wife is now in the way to do these good offices.”


There can be no doubt that Washington, like the Virginian of his time, was pre-eminently social. It is true that late in life he complained, as already quoted, that his home had become a “well resorted tavern,” and that at his own table “I rarely miss seeing strange faces, come as they say out of respect for me. Pray, would not the word curiosity answer as well?” but even in writing this he added, “how different this from having a few social friends at a cheerful board!” When a surveyor he said that the greatest pleasure he could have would be to hear from or be with “my Intimate friends and acquaintances;” to one he wrote, “I hope you in particular will not Bauk me of what I so ardently wish for,” and he groaned over being “amongst a parcel of barbarians.” While in the Virginia regiment he complained of a system of rations which “deprived me of the pleasure of inviting an officer or friend, which to me would be more agreeable, than nick-nacks I shall meet with,” and when he was once refused leave of absence by the governor, he replied bitterly, “it was not to enjoy a party of pleasure I wanted a leave of absence; I have been indulged with few of these, winter or summer!” At Mount Vernon, if a day was spent without company the fact was almost always noted in his diary, and in a visit, too, he noted that he had “a very lonesome Evening at Colo Champe’s, not any Body favoring us with their Company but himself.”

The plantation system which prevented town life and put long distances between neighbors developed two forms of society. One of these was house parties, and probably nowhere else in the world was that form of hospitality so unstinted as in this colony. Any one of a certain social standing was privileged, even welcomed, to ride up to the seat of a planter, dismount, and thus become a guest, ceasing to be such only when he himself chose. Sometimes one family would go en masse many miles to stay a week with friends, and when they set out to return their hosts would journey with them and in turn become guests for a week. The second form of social life was called clubs. At all the cross-roads and court-houses there sprang up taverns or ordinaries, and in these the men of a neighborhood would gather, and over a bowl of punch or a bottle of wine, the expense of which they “clubbed” to share, would spend their evenings.

Into this life Washington entered eagerly. As a mere lad his ledger records expenditures: “By a club in Arrack at Mr. Gordon’s 2/6;” “Club of a bottle of Rhenish at Mitchells 1/3;” “To part of the club at Port Royal 1/;” “To Cash in part for a Bowl of fruit punch 1/7-1/2.” So, too, he was a visitor at this time at some of the great Virginian houses, as elsewhere noted. When he came into possession of Mount Vernon he offered the same unstinted welcome that he had met with, and even as a bachelor he writes of his “having much company,” and again of being occupied with “a good deal of Company.” In two months of 1768 Washington had company to dinner, or to spend the night, on twenty-nine days, and dined or visited away from home on seven; and this is typical.

Whenever, too, trips were made to Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia, or elsewhere, it was a rare occurrence when the various stages of the journey were not spent with friends, and in those cities he was dined and wined to a surfeit.

During the Revolution all of Washington’s aides and his secretary lived with him at head-quarters, and constituted what he always called “my family.” In addition, many others sat down at table,—those who came on business from a distance, as well as bidden guests,—-which frequently included ladies from the neighborhood, who must have been belles among the sixteen to twenty men who customarily sat down to dinner. “If … convenient and agreeable to you to take pot luck with me to-day,” the General wrote John Adams in 1776, “I shall be glad of your company.” Pot luck it was for commander-in-chief and staff. Mention has been made of how sometimes Washington slept on the ground, and even when under cover there was not occasionally much more comfort. Pickering relates that one night was passed in “Headquarters at Galloway’s, an old log house. The General lodged in a bed, and his family on the floor about him. We had plenty of sepawn and milk, and all were contented.”

Oftentimes there were difficulties in the hospitality. “I have been at my prest. quarters since the 1st day of Decr.,” Washington complained to the commissary-general, “and have not a Kitchen to cook a Dinner in, altho’ the Logs have been put together some considerable time by my own Guard. Nor is there a place at this moment in which a servant can lodge, with the smallest degree of comfort. Eighteen belonging to my family, and all Mrs. Ford’s, are crowded together in her Kitchen, and scarce one of them able to speak for the cold they have caught.” Pickering, in telling how he tried to secure lodgings away from head-quarters, gave for his reasons that “they are exceedingly pinched for room…. Had I conceived how much satisfaction, quiet and even leisure, I should have enjoyed at separate quarters, I would have taken them six months ago. For at head-quarters there is a continual throng, and my room, in particular, (when I was happy enough to get one,) was always crowded by all that came to headquarters on business, because there was no other for them, we having, for the most part, been in such small houses.”

There were other difficulties. “I cannot get as much cloth,” the general wrote, “as will make cloaths for my servants, notwithstanding one of them that attends my person and table is indecently and most shamefully naked.” One of his aides said to a correspondent, jocularly, “I take your Caution to me in Regard to my Health very kindly, but I assure you, you need be under no Apprehension of my losing it on the Score of Excess of living, that Vice is banished from this Army and the General’s Family in particular. We never sup, but go to bed and are early up.” “Only conceive,” Washington complained to Congress, “the mortification they (even the general officers) must suffer, when they cannot invite a French officer, a visiting friend, or a travelling acquaintance, to a better repast, than stinking whiskey (and not always that) and a bit of Beef without vegetables.”

At times, too, it was necessary to be an exemplar. “Our truly republican general,” said Laurens, “has declared to his officers that he will set the example of passing the winter in a hut himself,” and John Adams, in a time of famine, declared that “General Washington sets a fine example. He has banished wine from his table, and entertains his friends with rum and water.”

Whenever it was possible, however, there was company at head-quarters. “Since the General left Germantown in the middle of September last,” the General Orders once read, “he has been without his baggage, and on that account is unable to receive company in the manner he could wish. He nevertheless desires the Generals, Field Officers and Brigades Major of the day, to dine with him in future, at three o’clock in the afternoon.” Again the same vehicle informed the army that “the hurry of business often preventing particular invitations being given to officers to dine with the General; He presents his compliments to the Brigadiers and Field Officers of the day, and requests while the Camp continues settled in the City, they will favor him with their company to dinner, without further or special invitation.”

Mrs. Drinker, who went with a committee of women to camp at Valley Forge, has left a brief description of head-quarters hospitality: “Dinner was served, to which he invited us. There were 15 Officers, besides ye Gl. and his wife, Gen. Greene, and Gen. Lee. We had an elegant dinner, which was soon over, when we went out with ye Genls wife, up to her Chamber—and saw no more of him.” Claude Blanchard, too, describes a dinner, at which “there was twenty-five covers used by some officers of the army and a lady to whom the house belonged in which the general lodged. We dined under the tent. I was placed along side of the general. One of his aides-de-camp did the honors. The table was served in the American style and pretty abundantly; vegetables, roast beef, lamb, chickens, salad dressed with nothing but vinegar, green peas, puddings, and some pie, a kind of tart, greatly in use in England and among the Americans, all this being put upon the table at the same time. They gave us on the same plate beef, green peas, lamb, &c.”

Nor was the ménage of the General unequal to unexpected calls. Chastellux tells of his first arrival in camp and introduction to Washington: “He conducted me to his house, where I found the company still at table, although the dinner had been long over. He presented me to the Generals Knox, Waine, Howe, &c. and to his family, then composed of Colonels Hamilton and Tilgman, his Secretaries and his Aides de Camp, and of Major Gibbs, commander of his guards; for in England and America, the Aides de Camp, Adjutants and other officers attached to the General, form what is called his family. A fresh dinner was prepared for me and mine; and the present was prolonged to keep me company.” “At nine,” he elsewhere writes, “supper was served, and when the hour of bed-time came, I found that the chamber, to which the General conducted me was the very parlour I speak of, wherein he had made them place a camp-bed.” Of his hospitality Washington himself wrote,—

“I have asked Mrs. Cochran & Mrs. Livingston to dine with me to-morrow; but am I not in honor bound to apprize them of their fate? As I hate deception, even where the imagination only is concerned; I will. It is needless to premise, that my table is large enough to hold the ladies. Of this they had ocular proof yesterday. To say how it is usually covered, is rather more essential; and this shall be the purport of my Letter.

“Since our arrival at this happy spot, we have had a ham, (sometimes a shoulder) of Bacon, to grace the head of the Table; a piece of roast Beef adorns the foot; a dish of beans, or greens, (almost imperceptible,) decorates the center. When the cook has a mind to cut a figure, (which, I presume will be the case to-morrow) we have two Beef-steak pyes, or dishes of crabs, in addition, one on each side of the center dish, dividing the space & reducing the distance between dish & dish to about 6 feet, which without them would be near 12 feet apart. Of late he has had the surprising sagacity to discover, that apples will make pyes; and its a question, if, in the violence of his efforts, we do not get one of apples, instead of having both of Beef-steaks. If the ladies can put up with such entertainment, and will submit to partake of it in plates, once Tin but now Iron—(not become so by the labor of scouring), I shall be happy to see them.”

Dinners were not the only form of entertaining. In Cambridge, when Mrs. Washington and Mrs. Jack Custis were at head-quarters, a reception was held on the anniversary of Washington’s marriage, and at other times when there was anything to celebrate,—the capitulation of Burgoyne, the alliance with France, the birth of a dauphin, etc.,—parades, balls, receptions, “feux-de-joie,” or cold collations were given. Perhaps the most ambitious attempt was a dinner given on September 21, 1782, in a large tent, to which ninety sat down, while a “band of American music” added to the “gaiety of the company.”

Whenever occasion called the General to attend on Congress there was much junketing. “My time,” he wrote, “during my winter’s residence in Philadelphia, was unusually (for me) divided between parties of pleasure and parties of business.” When Reed pressed him to pass the period of winter quarters in visiting him in Philadelphia, he replied, “were I to give in to private conveniency and amusement, I should not be able to resist the invitation of my friends to make Philadelphia, instead of a squeezed up room or two, my quarters for the winter.”

While President, a more elaborate hospitality was maintained. Both in New York and Philadelphia the best houses procurable were rented as the Presidential home,—for Washington “wholly declined living in any public building,”—and a steward and fourteen lower servants attended to all details, though a watchful supervision was kept by the President over them, and in the midst of his public duties he found time to keep a minute account of the daily use of all supplies, with their cost. His payments to his stewards for mere servants’ wages and food (exclusive of wine) were over six hundred dollars a month, and there can be little doubt that Washington, who had no expense paid by the public, more than spent his salary during his term of office.

It was the President’s custom to give a public dinner once a week “to as many as my table will hold,” and there was also a bi-weekly levee, to which any one might come, as well as evening receptions by Mrs. Washington, which were more distinctly social and far more exclusive. Ashbel Green states that “Washington’s dining parties were entertained in a very handsome style. His weekly dining day for company was Thursday, and his dining hour was always four o’clock in the afternoon. His rule was to allow five minutes for the variations of clocks and watches, and then go to the table, be present or absent, whoever might. He kept his own clock in the hall, just within the outward door, and always exactly regulated. When lagging members of Congress came in, as they often did, after the guests had sat down to dinner, the president’s only apology was, ‘Gentlemen (or sir) we are too punctual for you. I have a cook who never asks whether the company has come, but whether the hour has come.’ The company usually assembled in the drawing-room, about fifteen or twenty minutes before dinner, and the president spoke to every guest personally on entering the room.”

Maclay attended several of the dinners, and has left descriptions of them. “Dined this day with the President,” he writes. “It was a great dinner— all in the tastes of high life. I considered it as a part of my duty as a Senator to submit to it, and am glad it is over. The President is a cold, formal man; but I must declare that he treated me with great attention. I was the first person with whom he drank a glass of wine. I was often spoken to by him.” Again he says,—

“At dinner, after my second plate had been taken away, the President offered to help me to part of a dish which stood before him. Was ever anything so unlucky? I had just before declined being helped to anything more, with some expression that denoted my having made up my dinner. Had, of course, for the sake of consistency, to thank him negatively, but when the dessert came, and he was distributing a pudding, he gave me a look of interrogation, and I returned the thanks positive. He soon after asked me to drink a glass of wine with him.” On another occasion he “went to the President’s to dinner…. The President and Mrs. Washington sat opposite each other in the middle of the table; the two secretaries, one at each end. It was a great dinner, and the best of the kind I ever was at. The room, however, was disagreeably warm. First the soup; fish roasted and boiled; meats, sammon, fowls, etc…. The middle of the table was garnished in the usual tasty way, with small images, flowers, (artificial), etc. The dessert was, apple pies, pudding, etc.; then iced creams, jellies, etc.; then water-melons, musk-melons, apples, peaches, nuts. It was the most solemn dinner I ever was at. Not a health drank; scarce a word was said until the cloth was taken away. Then the President filling a glass of wine, with great formality drank to the health of every individual by name round the table. Everybody imitated him, charged glasses, and such a buzz of ‘health, sir,’ and ‘health, madam,’ and ‘thank you, sir,’ and ‘thank you, madam,’ never had I heard before…. The ladies sat a good while, and the bottles passed about; but there was a dead silence almost. Mrs. Washington at last withdrew with the ladies. I expected the men would now begin, but the same stillness remained. The President told of a New England clergyman who had lost a hat and wig in passing a river called the Brunks. He smiled, and everybody else laughed. He now and then said a sentence or two on some common subject, and what he said was not amiss…. The President … played with the fork, striking on the edge of the table with it. We did not sit long after the ladies retired. The President rose, went up-stairs to drink coffee; the company followed.”

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Bradbury gives the menu of a dinner at which he was, where “there was an elegant variety of roast beef, veal, turkey, ducks, fowls, hams, &c.; puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punch. We took our leave at six, more than an hour after the candles were introduced. No lady but Mrs. Washington dined with us. We were waited on by four or five men servants dressed in livery.” At the last official dinner the President gave, Bishop White was present, and relates that “to this dinner as many were invited as could be accommodated at the President’s table…. Much hilarity prevailed; but on the removal of the cloth it was put an end to by the President—certainly without design. Having filled his glass, he addressed the company, with a smile on his countenance, saying: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last time I shall drink your health, as a public man. I do it with sincerity, and wishing you all possible happiness.’ There was an end of all pleasantry.”

A glance at Mrs. Washington’s receptions has been given, but the levees of the President remain to be described. William Sullivan, who attended many, wrote,—

“At three o’clock or at any time within a quarter of an hour afterward, the visitor was conducted to this dining room, from which all seats had been removed for the time. On entering, he saw” Washington, who “stood always in front of the fire-place, with his face towards the door of entrance. The visitor was conducted to him, and he required to have the name so distinctly pronounced that he could hear it. He had the very uncommon faculty of associating a man’s name, and personal appearance, so durably in his memory, as to be able to call one by name, who made him a second visit. He received his visitor with a dignified bow, while his hands were so disposed of as to indicate, that the salutation was not to be accompanied with shaking hands. This ceremony never occurred in these visits, even with his most near friends, that no distinction might be made. As visitors came in, they formed a circle round the room. At a quarter past three, the door was closed, and the circle was formed for that day. He then began on the right, and spoke to each visitor, calling him by name, and exchanging a few words with him. When he had completed his circuit, he resumed his first position, and the visitors approached him in succession, bowed and retired. By four o’clock the ceremony was over.”

The ceremony of the dinners and levees and the liveried servants were favorite impeachments of the President among the early Democrats before they had better material, and Washington was charged with trying to constitute a court, and with conducting himself like a king. Even his bow was a source of criticism, and Washington wrote in no little irritation in regard to this, “that I have not been able to make bows to the taste of poor Colonel Bland, (who, by the by, I believe, never saw one of them), is to be regretted, especially too, as (upon those occasions), they were indiscriminately bestowed, and the best I was master of, would it not have been better to throw the veil of charity over them, ascribing their stiffness to the effects of age, or to the unskillfulness of my teacher, than to pride and dignity of office, which God knows has no charms for me? For I can truly say, I had rather be at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the seat of government by the officers of state, and the representatives of every power in Europe.”

There can be no doubt that Washington hated ceremony as much as the Democrats, and yielded to it only from his sense of fitness and the opinions of those about him. Jefferson and Madison both relate how such unnecessary form was used at the first levee by the master of ceremonies as to make it ridiculous, and Washington, appreciating this, is quoted as saying to the amateur chamberlain, “Well, you have taken me in once, but, by God, you shall never take me in a second time.” His secretary, in writing to secure lodgings in Philadelphia, when the President and family were on their way to Mount Vernon, said, “I must repeat, what I observed in a former letter, that as little ceremony & parade may be made as possible, for the President wishes to command his own time, which these things always forbid in a greater or less degree, and they are to him fatiguing and oftentimes painful. He wishes not to exclude himself from the sight or conversation of his fellow citizens, but their eagerness to show their affection frequently imposes a heavy tax on him.”

This was still further shown in his diary of his tours through New England and the Southern States. Nothing would do but for Boston to receive him with troops, etc., and Washington noted, “finding this ceremony not to be avoided, though I had made every effort to do it, I named the hour.” In leaving Portsmouth he went “quietly, and without any attendance, having earnestly entreated that all parade and ceremony might be avoided on my return.” When travelling through North Carolina, “a small party of horse under one Simpson met us at Greenville, and in spite of every endeavor which could comport with decent civility, to excuse myself from it, they would attend me to Newburn.”

During the few years that Washington was at Mount Vernon subsequent to the Revolution, the same unbounded hospitality was dispensed as in earlier times, while a far greater demand was made upon it, and one so variegated that at times the host was not a little embarrassed. Thus he notes that “a Gentleman calling himself the Count de Cheiza D’Artigan Officer of the French Guards came here to dinner; but bringing no letters of introduction, nor any authentic testimonials of his being either; I was at a loss how to receive or treat him,—he stayed to dinner and the evening,” and the next day departed in Washington’s carriage to Alexandria. “A farmer came here to see,” he says, “my drill plow, and staid all night.” In another instance he records that a woman whose “name was unknown to me dined here.” Only once were visitors frowned on, and this was when a British marauding party came to Mount Vernon during the Revolution. Even they, in Washington’s absence, were entertained by his overseer, but his master wrote him, on hearing of this, “I am little sorry of my own [loss]; but that which gives me most concern is, that you should go on board the enemy’s vessels and furnish them with refreshments. It would have been a less painful circumstance to me to have heard, that in consequence of your non-compliance with their request, they had burnt my House and laid the plantation in ruins. You ought to have considered yourself as my representative, and should have reflected on the bad example of communicating with the enemy, and making a voluntary offer of refreshments to them with a view to prevent a conflagration.”

The hospitality at Mount Vernon was perfectly simple. A traveller relates that he was taken there by a friend, and, as Washington was “viewing his laborers,” we “were desired to tarry.” “When the President returned he received us very politely. Dr. Croker introduced me to him as a gentleman from Massachusetts who wished to see the country and pay his respects. He thanked us, desired us to be seated, and to excuse him a few moments…. The President came and desired us to walk in to dinner and directed us where to sit, (no grace was said)…. The dinner was very good, a small roasted pigg, boiled leg of lamb, roasted fowles, beef, peas, lettice, cucumbers, artichokes, etc., puddings, tarts, etc., etc. We were desired to call for what drink we chose. He took a glass of wine with Mrs. Law first, which example was followed by Dr. Croker and Mrs. Washington, myself and Mrs. Peters, Mr. Fayette and the young lady whose name is Custis. When the cloth was taken away the President gave ‘All our Friends,’”

Another visitor tells that he was received by Washington, and, “after … half an hour, the General came in again, with his hair neatly powdered, a clean shirt on, a new plain drab coat, white waistcoat and white silk stockings. At three, dinner was on the table, and we were shown by the General into another room, where everything was set off with a peculiar taste and at the same time neat and plain. The General sent the bottle about pretty freely after dinner, and gave success to the navigation of the Potomac for his toasts, which he has very much at heart…. After Tea General Washington retired to his study and left us with the … rest of the Company. If he had not been anxious to hear the news of Congress from Mr. Lee, most probably he would not have returned to supper, but gone to bed at his usual hour, nine o’clock, for he seldom makes any ceremony. We had a very elegant supper about that time. The General with a few glasses of champagne got quite merry, and being with his intimate friends laughed and talked a good deal. Before strangers he is very reserved, and seldom says a word. I was fortunate in being in his company with his particular acquaintances…. At 12 I had the honor of being lighted up to my bedroom by the General himself.”

This break on the evening hours was quite unusual, Washington himself saying in one place that nine o’clock was his bedtime, and he wrote of his hours after dinner, “the usual time of setting at table, a walk, and tea, brings me within the dawn of candlelight; previous to which, if not prevented by company I resolve, that as soon as the glimmering taper supplies the place of the great luminary, I will retire to my writing table and acknowledge the letters I have received; but when the lights were brought, I feel tired and disinclined to engage in this work, conceiving that the next night will do as well. The next comes, and with it the same causes for postponement, and effect, and so on.”

The foregoing allusion to Washington’s conversation is undoubtedly just. All who met him formally spoke of him as taciturn, but this was not a natural quality. Jefferson states that “in the circle of his friends, where he might be unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation,” and Madison told Sparks that, though “Washington was not fluent nor ready in conversation, and was inclined to be taciturn in general society,” yet “in the company of two or three intimate friends, he was talkative, and when a little excited was sometimes fluent and even eloquent” “The story so often repeated of his never laughing,” Madison said, was “wholly untrue; no man seemed more to enjoy gay conversation, though he took little part in it himself. He was particularly pleased with the jokes, good humor, and hilarity of his companions.”

Washington certainly did enjoy a joke. Nelly Custis said, “I have sometimes made him laugh most heartily from sympathy with my joyous and extravagant spirits,” and many other instances of his laughing are recorded. He himself wrote in 1775 concerning the running away of some British soldiers, “we laugh at his idea of chasing the Royal Fusileers with the stores. Does he consider them as inanimate, or as treasure?” When the British in Boston sent out a bundle of the king’s speech, “farcical enough, we gave great joy to them, (the red coats I mean), without knowing or intending it; for on that day, the day which gave being to the new army, (but before the proclamation came to hand,) we had hoisted the union flag in compliment to the United Colonies. But, behold, it was received in Boston as a token of the deep impression the speech had made upon us, and as a signal of submission.”

At times Washington would joke himself, though it was always somewhat labored, as in the case of the Jack already cited. “Without a coinage,” he wrote, “or unless a stop can be put to the cutting and clipping of money, our dollars, pistareens, &c., will be converted, as Teague says, into five quarters.” When the Democrats were charging the Federalists with having stolen from the treasury, he wrote to a Cabinet official, “and pray, my good sir, what part of the $800.000 have come to your share? As you are high in Office, I hope you did not disgrace yourself in the acceptance of a paltry bribe—a $100.000 perhaps.” He once even attempted a pun, by writing, “our enterprise will be ruined, and we shall be stopped at the Laurel Hill this winter; but not to gather laurels, (except of the kind that covers the mountains).”

Probably the neatest turn was his course on one occasion with General Tryon, who sent him some British proclamations with the request, “that through your means, the officers and men under your command may be acquainted with their contents.” Washington promptly replied that he had given them “free currency among the officers and men under my command,” and enclosed to Tryon a lot of the counter-proclamation, asking him to “be instrumental in communicating its contents, so far as it may be in your power, to the persons who are the objects of its operation. The benevolent purpose it is intended to answer will I persuade myself, sufficiently recommend it to your candor.”

To a poetess who had sent him some laudatory verses about himself he expressed his thanks, and added, “Fiction is to be sure the very life and Soul of Poetry—all Poets and Poetesses have been indulged in the free and indisputable use of it, time out of mind. And to oblige you to make such an excellent Poem on such a subject without any materials but those of simple reality, would be as cruel as the Edict of Pharoah which compelled the children of Israel to manufacture Bricks without the necessary Ingredients.”

Twice he joked about his own death. “As I have heard,” he said after Braddock’s defeat, “since my arrival at this place, a circumstancial account of my death and dying speech, I take this early opportunity of contradicting the first, and of assuring you, that I have not as yet composed the latter.” Many years later, in draughting a letter for his wife, he wrote,—

“I am now by desire of the General to add a few words on his behalf; which he desires may be expressed in the terms following, that is to say,—that despairing of hearing what may be said of him, if he should really go off in an apoplectic, or any other fit (for he thinks all fits that issue in death are worse than a love fit, a fit of laughter, and many other kinds which he could name)—he is glad to hear beforehand what will be said of him on that occasion; conceiving that nothing extra will happen between this and then to make a change in his character for better, or for worse. And besides, as he has entered into an engagement … not to quit this world before the year 1800, it may be relied upon that no breach of contract shall be laid to him on that account, unless dire necessity should bring it about, maugre all his exertions to the contrary. In that same, he shall hope they would do by him as he would do by them—excuse it. At present there seems to be no danger of his thus giving them the slip, as neither his health nor spirits, were ever in greater flow, notwithstanding, he adds, he is descending, and has almost reached the bottom of the hill; or in other words, the shades below. For your particular good wishes on this occasion he charges me to say that he feels highly obliged, and that he reciprocates them with great cordiality.”

Other social qualities of the man cannot be passed over. A marked trait was his extreme fondness of afternoon tea. “Dined at Mr. Langdon’s, and drank Tea there, with a large circle of Ladies;” “in the afternoon drank Tea … with about 20 ladies, who had been assembled for the occasion;” “exercised between 5 & 7 o’clock in the morning & drank Tea with Mrs. Clinton (the Governor’s Lady) in the afternoon;” “Drank tea at the Chief Justice’s of the U. States;” “Dined with the Citizens in public; and in the afternoon, was introduced to upwards of 50 ladies who had assembled (at a Tea party) on the occasion;” “Dined and drank tea at Mr. Bingham’s in great splendor.” Such are the entries in his diary whenever the was “kettle-a-boiling-be” was within reach. Pickering’s journal shows that tea served regularly at head-quarters, and at Mount Vernon it was drunk in summer on the veranda. In writing to Knox of his visit to Boston, Washington mentioned his recollection of the chats over tea-drinking, and of how “social and gay” they were.

A fondness for picnics was another social liking. “Rid with Fanny Bassett, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Shaw to meet a Party from Alexandria at Johnsons Spring … where we dined on a cold dinner brought from Town by water and spent the Afternoon agreeably—Returning home by Sun down or a little after it,” is noted in his diary on one occasion, and on another he wrote, “Having formed a Party, consisting of the Vice-President, his lady, Son & Miss Smith; the Secretaries of State, Treasury & War, and the ladies of the two latter; with all the Gentlemen of my family, Mrs. Lear & the two Children, we visited the old position of Fort Washington and afterwards dined on a dinner provided by Mr. Mariner.” Launchings, barbecues, clambakes, and turtle dinners were other forms of social dissipations.

A distinct weakness was dancing. When on the frontier he sighed, “the hours at present are melancholy dull. Neither the rugged toils of war, nor the gentler conflict of A[ssembly] B[alls,] is in my choice.” His diary shows him at balls and “Routs” frequently; when he was President he was a constant attendant at the regular “Dancing Assemblies” in New York and Philadelphia, and when at Mount Vernon he frequently went ten miles to Alexandria to attend dances. Of one of these Alexandria balls he has left an amusing description: “Went to a ball at Alexandria, where Musick and dancing was the chief Entertainment, however in a convenient room detached for the purpose abounded great plenty of bread and butter, some biscuits, with tea and coffee, which the drinkers of could not distinguish from hot water sweet’ned—Be it remembered that pocket handkerchiefs servd the purposes of Table cloths & Napkins and that no apologies were made for either. I shall therefore distinguish this ball by the stile and title of the Bread & Butter Ball.”

During the Revolution, too, he killed many a weary hour of winter quarters by dancing. When the camp spent a day rejoicing over the French alliance, “the celebration,” according to Thacher, “was concluded by a splendid ball opened by his Excellency General Washington, having for his partner the lady of General Knox.” Greene describes how “we had a little dance at my quarters a few evenings past. His Excellency and Mrs. Greene danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down.” Knox, too, tells of “a most genteel entertainment given by self and officers” at which Washington danced. “Everybody allows it to be the first of the kind ever exhibited in this State at least. We had above seventy ladies, all of the first ton in the State, and between three and four hundred gentlemen. We danced all night—an elegant room, the illuminating, fireworks, &c., were more than pretty.” And at Newport, when Rochambeau gave a ball, by request it was opened by Washington. The dance selected by his partner was “A Successful Campaign,” then in high favor, and the French officers took the instruments from the musicians and played while he danced the first figure.

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While in winter quarters he subscribed four hundred dollars (paper money, equal to eleven dollars in gold) to get up a series of balls, of which Greene wrote, “We have opened an assembly in Camp. From this apparent ease, I suppose it is thought we must be in happy circumstances. I wish it was so, but, alas, it is not. Our provisions are in a manner, gone. We have not a ton of hay at command, nor magazine to draw from. Money is extremely scarce and worth little when we get it. We have been so poor in camp for a fortnight, that we could not forward the public dispatches, for want of cash to support the expresses.” At the farewell ball given at Annapolis, when the commander-in-chief resigned his command, Tilton relates that “the General danced in every set, that all the ladies might have the pleasure of dancing with him; or as it has since been handsomely expressed, ‘get a touch of him.’” He still danced in 1796, when sixty-four years of age, but when invited to the Alexandria Assembly in 1799, he wrote to the managers, “Mrs. Washington and myself have been honored with your polite invitation to the assemblies of Alexandria this winter, and thank you for this mark of your attention. But, alas! our dancing days are no more. We wish, however all those who have a relish for so agreeable and innocent an amusement all the pleasure the season will afford them; and I am, gentlemen,

“Your most obedient and obliged humble servant,



A market trait of Washington’s character was his particularity about his clothes; there can be little question that he was early in life a good deal of a dandy, and that this liking for fine feathers never quite left him. When he was about sixteen years old he wrote in his journal, “Memorandum to have my Coat made by the following Directions to be made a Frock with a Lapel Breast the Lapel to Contain on each side six Button Holes and to be about 5 or 6 Inches wide all the way equal and to turn as the Breast on the Coat does to have it made very long Waisted and in Length to come down to or below the bent of the knee the Waist from the armpit to the Fold to be exactly as long or Longer than from thence to the Bottom not to have more than one fold in the Skirt and the top to be made just to turn in and three Button Holes the Lapel at the top to turn as the Cape of the Coat and Bottom to Come Parallel with the Button Holes the Last Button hole in the Breast to be right opposite to the Button on the Hip.”

In 1754 he bought “a Superfine blue broad cloth Coat, with Silver Trimmings,” “a fine Scarlet Waistcoat full Lac’d,” and a quantity of “silver lace for a Hatt,” and from another source it is learned that at this time he was the possessor of ruffled shirts. A little later he ordered from London “As much of the best superfine blue Cotton Velvet as will make a Coat, Waistcoat and Breeches for a Tall Man, with a fine silk button to suit it, and all other necessary trimmings and linings, together with garters for the Breeches,” and other orders at different times were for “6 prs. of the Very neatest shoes,” “A riding waistcoat of superfine scarlet cloth and gold Lace,” “2 prs. of fashionable mix’d or marble Color’d Silk Hose,” “1 piece of finest and fashionable Stock Tape,” “1 Suit of the finest Cloth & fashionable colour,” “a New Market Great Coat with a loose hood to it, made of Bleu Drab or broad cloth, with straps before according to the present taste,” “3 gold and scarlet sword-knots, 3 silver and blue do, 1 fashionable gold-laced hat.”

As these orders indicated, the young fellow strove to be in the fashion. In 1755 he wrote his brother, “as wearing boots is quite the mode, and mine are in a declining state, I must beg the favor of you to procure me a pair that is good and neat.” “Whatever goods you may send me,” he wrote his London agent, “let them be fashionable, neat and good of their several kinds.” It was a great trial to him that his clothes did not fit him. “I should have enclosed you my measure,” he wrote to London, “but in a general way they are so badly taken here, that I am convinced that it would be of very little service.” “I have hitherto had my clothes made by one Charles Lawrence in Old Fish Street,” he wrote his English factor. “But whether it be the fault of the tailor, or the measure sent, I can’t say, but, certain it is, my clothes have never fitted me well.”

It must not be inferred, however, that Washington carried his dandyism to weakness. When fine clothes were not in place, they were promptly discarded. In his trip to the Ohio in 1753 he states that “I put myself in an Indian walking Dress,” and “tied myself up in a Match Coat,”—that is, an Indian blanket. In the campaign of 1758 he wrote to his superior officer “that were I left to pursue my own Inclinations, I would not only order the Men to adopt the Indian dress, but cause the Officers to do it also, and be at the first to set the example myself. Nothing but the uncertainty of its taking with the General causes me to hesitate a moment at leaving my Regimentals at this place, and proceeding as light as any Indian in the Woods. ’Tis an unbecoming dress, I confess, for an officer; but convenience, rather than shew, I think should be consulted.” And this was such good sense that the general gave him leave, and it was done.

With increase of years his taste in clothes became softened and more sober. “On the other side is an invoice of clothes which I beg the favor of you to purchase for me,” he wrote to London. “As they are designed for wearing apparel for myself, I have committed the choice of them to your fancy, having the best opinion of your taste. I want neither lace nor embroidery. Plain clothes, with a gold or silver button (if worn in genteel dress) are all I desire.” “Do not conceive,” he told his nephew in 1783, “that fine clothes make fine men more than fine feathers make fine Birds. A plain genteel dress is more admired, and obtains more credit than lace and embroidery, in the Eyes of the judicious and sensible.” And in connection with the provisional army he decided that “on reconsidering the uniform of the Commander in Chief, it has become a matter of doubt with me, (although, as it respects myself personally, I was against all embroidery,) whether embroidery on the Cape, Cuffs, and Pockets of the Coat, and none on the buff waistcoat would not have a disjointed and awkward appearance.” Probably nowhere did he show his good taste more than in his treatment of the idea of putting him in classic garments when his bust was made by Houdon.

“In answer to your obliging inquiries respecting the dress, attitude, &c.,” he wrote, “which I would wish to have given to the statue in question, I have only to observe, that, not having sufficient knowledge in the art of sculpture to oppose my judgment to the taste of connoisseurs, I do not desire to dictate in the matter. On the contrary I shall be perfectly satisfied with whatever may be judged decent and proper. I should even scarcely have ventured to suggest, that perhaps a servile adherence to the garb of antiquity might not be altogether so expedient, as some little deviation in favor of the modern costume.”

Washington, as noted, bought his clothes in England; but it was from necessity more than choice. “If there be any homespun Cloths in Philadelphia which are tolerably fine, that you can come reasonably at,” he said to his Philadelphia agent in 1784, “I would be obliged to you to send me patterns of some of the best kinds—I should prefer that which is mixed in the grain, because it will not so readily discover its quality as a plain cloth.” Before he was inaugurated he wrote “General Knox this day to procure me homespun broadcloth of the Hartford fabric, to make a suit of clothes for myself,” adding, “I hope it will not be a great while before it will be unfashionable for a gentleman to appear in any other dress. Indeed, we have already been too long subject to British prejudices.” At another time he noted in his diary with evident pride, “on this occasion I was dressed in a suit made at the Woolen Manufactory at Hartford, as the buttons also were.” But then, as now, the foreign clothes were so much finer that his taste overcame his patriotism, and his secretary wrote that “the President is desireous of getting as much superfine blk broad Cloth as will make him a suit of Clothes, and desires me to request that you would send him that quantity … The best superfine French or Dutch black—exceedingly fine—of a soft, silky texture—not glossy like the Engh cloths.”

A caller during the Presidency spoke of him as dressed in purple satin, and at his levees he is described by Sullivan as “clad in black velvet; his hair in full dress, powdered and gathered behind in a large silk bag; yellow gloves on his hands; holding a cocked hat with a cockade in it, and the edges adorned with a black feather about an inch deep. He wore knee and shoe buckles; and a long sword, with a finely wrought and polished steel hilt, which appeared at the left hip; the coat worn over the sword, so that the hilt, and the part below the coat behind, were in view. The scabbard was white polished leather.”

About his person Washington was as neat as he desired his clothes to be. At seventeen when surveying he records that he was

“Lighted into a Room & I not being so good a Woodsman as ye rest of my Company striped myself very orderly & went in to ye Bed as they called it when to my Surprize I found it to be nothing but a Little Straw—Matted together without Sheets or any thing else but only one thread Bear blanket with double its Weight of Vermin such as Lice, Fleas &c. I was glad to get up (as soon as ye Light was carried from us) I put on my Cloths & Lay as my Companions. Had we not have been very tired I am sure we should not have slep’d much that night. I made a Promise not to Sleep so from that time forward chusing rather to sleep in ye open Air before a fire as will appear hereafter.” The next day he notes that the party “Travell’d up to Frederick Town where our Baggage came to us we cleaned ourselves (to get Rid of ye Game we had catched y. Night before)” and slept in “a good Feather Bed with clean Sheets which was a very agreeable regale.”

Wherever he happened to be, the laundress was in constant demand. His bill from the washer-lady for the week succeeding his inauguration as President, and before his domestic ménage was in running order, was for “6 Ruffled shirts, 2 plain shirts, 8 stocks, 3 pair Silk Hose, 2 White hand. 2 Silk Handks. 1 pr. Flanl. Drawers, 1 Hair nett.”

The barber, too, was a constant need, and Washington’s ledger shows constant expenditures for perfumed hair-powder and pomatum, and also for powder bags and puffs. Apparently the services of this individual were only for the arranging of his hair, for he seems never to have shaved Washington, that being done either by himself or by his valet. Of this latter individual Washington said (when the injury to William Lee unfitted him for the service), “I do not as yet know whether I shall get a substitute for William: nothing short of excellent qualities and a man of good appearance, would induce me to do it—and under my present view of the matter, too, who would employ himself otherwise than William did—that is as a butler as well as a valette, for my wants of the latter are so trifling that any man (as William was) would soon be ruined by idleness, who had only them to attend to.”

In food Washington took what came with philosophy. “If you meet with collegiate fare, it will be unmanly to complain,” he told his grandson, though he once complained in camp that “we are debarred from the pleasure of good living; which, Sir, (I dare say with me you will concur,) to one who has always been used to it, must go somewhat hard to be confined to a little salt provision and water.” Usually, however, poor fare was taken as a matter of course. “When we came to Supper,” he said in his journal of 1748, “there was neither a Cloth upon ye Table nor a Knife to eat with but as good luck would have it we had Knives of our own,” and again he wrote, “we pull’d out our Knapsack in order to Recruit ourselves every one was his own Cook our Spits was Forked Sticks our Plates was a Large Chip as for Dishes we had none.” Nor was he squeamish about what he ate. In the voyage to Barbadoes he several times ate dolphin; he notes that the bread was almost “eaten up by Weavel & Maggots,” and became quite enthusiastic over some “very fine Bristol tripe” and “a fine Irish Ling & Potatoes.” But all this may have been due to the proverbial sea appetite.

Samuel Stearns states that Washington “breakfasts about seven o’clock on three small Indian hoe-cakes, and as many dishes of tea,” and Custis relates that “Indian cakes, honey, and tea formed this temperate repast.” These two writers tell us that at dinner “he ate heartily, but was not particular in his diet, with the exception of fish, of which he was excessively fond. He partook sparingly of dessert, drank a home-made beverage, and from four to five glasses of Madeira wine” (Custis), and that “he dines, commonly on a single dish, and drinks from half a pint to a pint of Madeira wine. This, with one small glass of punch, a draught of beer, and two dishes of tea (which he takes half an hour before sun-setting) constitutes his whole sustenance till the next day.” (Stearns.) Ashbel Green relates that at the state banquets during the Presidency Washington “generally dined on one single dish, and that of a very simple kind. If offered something either in the first or second course which was very rich, his usual reply was—‘That is too good for me.’” It is worth noting that he religiously observed the fasts proclaimed in 1774 and 1777, going without food the entire day.

A special liking is mentioned above. In 1782 Richard Varick wrote to a friend, “General Washington dines with me to-morrow; he is exceedingly fond of salt fish; I have some coming up, & tho’ it will be here in a few days, it will not be here in time—If you could conveniently lend me as much fish as would serve a pretty large company to-morrow (at least for one Dish), it will oblige me, and shall in a very few days be returned in as good Dun Fish as ever you see. Excuse this freedom, and it will add to the favor. Could you not prevail upon somebody to catch some Trout for me early to-morrow morning?” When procurable, salt codfish was Washington’s regular Sunday dinner.

A second liking was honey. His ledger several times mentions purchases of this, and in 1789 his sister wrote him, “when I last had the Pleasure of seeing you I observ’d your fondness for Honey; I have got a large Pot of very fine in the comb, which I shall send by the first opportunity.” Among his purchases “sugar candy” is several times mentioned, but this may have been for children, and not for himself. He was a frequent buyer of fruit of all kinds and of melons.

He was very fond of nuts, buying hazelnuts and shellbarks by the barrel, and he wrote his overseer in 1792 to “tell house Frank I expect he will lay up a more plenteous store of the black common walnuts than he usually does.” The Prince de Broglie states that “at dessert he eats an enormous quantity of nuts, and when the conversation is entertaining he keeps eating through a couple of hours, from time to time giving sundry healths, according to the English and American custom. It is what they call ‘toasting.’”

Washington was from boyhood passionately fond of horsemanship, and when but seventeen owned a horse. Humphreys states that “all those who have seen General Washington on horseback, at the head of his army, will doubtless bear testimony with the author that they never saw a more graceful or dignified person,” and Jefferson said of him that he was “the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback.” His diary shows that he rode on various occasions as much as sixty miles in a day, and Lawrence reports that he “usually rode from Rockingham to Princeton, which is five miles, in forty minutes.” John Hunter, in a visit to Mount Vernon in 1785, writes that he went

“to see his famous race-horse Magnolia—a most beautiful creature. A whole length of his was taken a while ago, (mounted on Magnolia) by a famous man from Europe on copper…. I afterwards went to his stables, where among an amazing number of horses, I saw old Nelson, now 22 years of age, that carried the General almost always during the war; Blueskin, another fine old horse next to him, now and then had that honor. Shaw also shewed me his old servant, that was reported to have been taken, with a number of the General’s papers about him. They have heard the roaring of many a cannon in their time. Blueskin was not the favorite, on account of his not standing fire so well as venerable old Nelson.”

Chastellux relates, “he was so attentive as to give me the horse he rode, the day of my arrival, which I had greatly commended—I found him as good as he is handsome; but above all, perfectly well broke, and well trained, having a good mouth, easy in hand and stopping short in a gallop without bearing the bit—I mention these minute particulars, because it is the general himself who breaks all his own horses; and he is a very excellent and bold horseman, leaping the highest fences, and going extremely quick, without standing upon his stirrups, bearing on the bridle, or letting his horse run wild.”

As a matter of course this liking for horses made Washington fond of racing, and he not only subscribed liberally to most of the racing purses, but ran horses at them, attending in person, and betting moderately on the results. So, too, he was fond of riding to the hounds, and when at Mount Vernon it was a favorite pastime. From his diary excerpts of runs are,—

“Went a Fox hunting with the Gentlemen who came here yesterday…. after a very early breakfast—found a Fox just back of Muddy hole Plantation and after a Chase of an hour and a quarter with my Dogs, & eight couple of Doctor Smiths (brought by Mr. Phil Alexander) we put him into a hollow tree, in which we fastened him, and in the Pincushion put up another Fox which, in an hour & 13 Minutes was killed—We then after allowing the Fox in the hole half an hour put the Dogs upon his trail & in half a Mile he took to another hollow tree and was again put out of it but he did not go 600 yards before he had recourse to the same shift—finding therefore that he was a conquered Fox we took the Dogs off, and came home to Dinner.”

“After an early breakfast [my nephew] George Washington, Mr. Shaw and Myself went into the Woods back of Muddy hole Plantation a hunting and were joined by Mr. Lund Washington and Mr. William Peake. About half after ten Oclock (being first plagued with the Dogs running Hogs) we found a fox near Colo Masons Plantation on little Hunting Creek (West fork) having followed on his Drag more than half a Mile; and run him with Eight Dogs (the other 4 getting, as was supposed after a Second Fox) close and well for an hour. When the Dogs came to a fault and to cold Hunting until 20 minutes after when being joined by the missing Dogs they put him up afresh and in about 50 Minutes killed up in an open field of Colo Mason’s every Rider & every Dog being present at the Death.”

During the Revolution, when opportunity offered, he rode to the hounds, for Hiltzheimer wrote in 1781, “My son Robert [having] been on a Hunt at Frankfort says that His Excel’y Gen. Washington was there.”

This liking made dogs an interest to him, and he took much pains to improve the breed of his hounds. On one occasion he “anointed all my Hounds (as well old Dogs as Puppies) which have the mange, with Hogs Lard & Brimstone.” Mopsey, Pilot, Tartar, Jupiter, Trueman, Tipler, Truelove, Juno, Dutchess, Ragman, Countess, Lady, Searcher, Rover, Sweetlips, Vulcan, Singer, Music, Tiyal, and Forrester are some of the names he gave them. In 1794, in the fall of his horse, as already mentioned, he wrenched his back, and in consequence, when he returned to Mount Vernon, this pastime was never resumed, and his pack was given up.

Kindred to this taste for riding to the hounds was one for gunning. A few entries in his diary tell the nature of his sport. “Went a ducking between breakfast and dinner and kill’d 2 Mallards & 5 bald faces.” “I went to the Creek but not across it. Kill’d 2 ducks, viz. a sprig tail and a Teal.” “Rid out with my gun but kill’d nothing.” In 1787 a man asked for permission to shoot over Mount Vernon, and Washington refused it because

“my fixed determination is, that no person whatever shall hunt upon my grounds or waters—To grant leave to one and refuse another would not only be drawing a line of discrimination which would be offensive, but would subject one to great inconvenience—for my strict and positive orders to all my people are if they hear a gun fired upon my Land to go immediately in pursuit of it…. Besides, as I have not lost my relish for this sport when I find time to indulge myself in it, and Gentlemen who come to the House are pleased with it, it is my wish not to have game within my jurisdiction disturbed.”

Fishing was another pastime. He “went a dragging for Sturgeon” frequently, and sometimes “catch’d one” and sometimes “catch’d none.” While in Philadelphia in 1787 he went up to the old camp at Valley Forge and spent a day fishing, and in 1789 at Portsmouth, “having lines, we proceeded to the Fishing Banks a little without the Harbour and fished for Cod; but it not being a proper time of tide, we only caught two.” After his serious sickness in 1790 a newspaper reports that “yesterday afternoon the President of the United States returned from Sandy Hook and the fishing banks, where he had been for the benefit of the sea air, and to amuse himself in the delightful recreation of fishing. We are told he has had excellent sport, having himself caught a great number of sea-bass and black fish—the weather proved remarkably fine, which, together with the salubrity of the air and wholesome exercise, rendered this little voyage extremely agreeable, and cannot fail, we hope, of being serviceable to a speedy and complete restoration of his health.”

Washington was fond of cards, and in bad weather even records “at home all day, over cards.” How much time must have been spent in this way is shown by the innumerable purchases of “1 dozen packs playing cards” noted in his ledger. In 1748, when he was sixteen years old, he won two shillings and threepence from his sister-in-law at whist and five shillings at “Loo” (or, as he sometimes spells it, “Lue”) from his brother, and he seems always to have played for small stakes, which sometimes mounted into fairly sizable sums. The largest gain found is three pounds, and the largest loss nine pounds fourteen shillings and ninepence. He seems to have lost oftener than he won.

Billiards was a rival of cards, and a game of which he seems to have been fond. In his seventeenth year he won one shilling and threepence by the cue, and from that time won and lost more or less money in this way. Here, too, he seems to have been out of pocket, though not for so much money, his largest winning noted being only seven shillings and sixpence, and his largest loss being one pound and ten shillings.

In 1751, at Barbadoes, Washington “was treated with a play ticket to see the Tragedy of George Barnwell acted: the character of Barnwell and several others was said to be well perform’d there was Musick a Dapted and regularly conducted.” This presumptively was the lad’s first visit to the playhouse, but from that time it was one of his favorite amusements. At first his ledger shows expenditures of “Cash at the Play House 1/3,” which proves that his purse would bear the cost of only the cheapest seats; but later he became more extravagant in this respect, and during the Presidency he used the drama for entertaining, his ledger giving many items of tickets bought. A type entry in Washington’s diary is, “Went to the play in the evening—sent tickets to the following ladies and gentlemen and invited them to seats in my box, viz:—Mrs. Adams (lady of the Vice-President,) General Schuyler and lady, Mr. King and lady, Majr. Butler and lady, Colo Hamilton and lady, Mrs. Green—all of whom accepted and came except Mrs. Butler, who was indisposed.”

Maclay describes the first of these theatre parties as follows: “I received a ticket from the President of the United States to use his box this evening at the theatre, being the first of his appearances at the playhouse since his entering on his office. Went The President, Governor of the State, foreign Ministers, Senators from New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, M.[aryland] and South Carolina; and some ladies in the same box. I am old, and notices or attentions are lost on me. I could have wished some of my dear children in my place; they are young and would have enjoyed it. Long might they live to boast of having been seated in the same box with the first Character in the world. The play was the ‘School for Scandal,’ I never liked it; indeed, I think it an indecent representation before ladies of character and virtue. Farce, the ‘Old Soldier.’ The house greatly crowded, and I thought the players acted well; but I wish we had seen the Conscious Lovers, or some one that inculcated more prudential manners.”

Of the play, or rather interlude, of the “Old Soldier” its author, Dunlap, gives an amusing story. It turned on the home-coming of an old soldier, and, like the topical song of to-day, touched on local affairs:

“When Wignell, as Darby, recounts what had befallen him in America, in New York, at the adoption of the Federal Constitution, and the inauguration of the president, the interest expressed by the audience in the looks and the changes of countenance of this great man [Washington] became intense. He smiled at these lines, alluding to the change in the government—

There too I saw some mighty pretty shows;
A revolution, without blood or blows,
For, as I understood, the cunning elves,
The people all revolted from themselves.

But at the lines—

A man who fought to free the land from we,
Like me, had left his farm, a-soldiering to go:
But having gain’d his point, he had like me,
Return’d his own potato ground to see.
But there he could not rest. With one accord
He’s called to be a kind of—not a lord—
I don’t know what, he’s not a great man, sure,
For poor men love him just as he were poor.
They love him like a father or a brother,
As we poor Irishmen love one another.

The president looked serious; and when Kathleen asked,

How looked he, Darby? Was he short or tall?

his countenance showed embarrassment, from the expectation or one of those eulogiums which, he had been obliged to hear on many public occasions, and which must doubtless have been a severe trial to his feelings: but Darby’s answer that he had not seen him, because he had mistaken a man ‘all lace and glitter, botherum and shine,’ for him, until all the show had passed, relieved the hero from apprehension of farther personality, and he indulged in that which was with him extremely rare, a hearty laugh.”

Washington did not even despise amateur performances. As already mentioned, he expressed a wish to take part in “Cato” himself in 1758, and a year before he had subscribed to the regimental “players at Fort Cumberland,” His diary shows that in 1768 the couple at Mount Vernon “& ye two children were up to Alexandria to see the Inconstant or ‘the way to win him’ acted,” which was probably an amateur performance. Furthermore, Duer tells us that “I was not only frequently admitted to the presence of this most august of men, in propria persona, but once had the honor of appearing before him as one of the dramatis personae in the tragedy of Julius Caesar, enacted by a young ‘American Company,’ (the theatrical corps then performing in New York being called the ‘Old American Company’) in the garret of the Presidential mansion, wherein before the magnates of the land and the elite of the city, I performed the part of Brutus to the Cassius of my old school-fellow, Washington Custis.”

The theatre was by no means the only show that appealed to Washington. He went to the circus when opportunity offered, gave nine shillings to a “man who brought an elk as a show,” three shillings and ninepence “to hear the Armonica,” two dollars for tickets “to see the automatum,” treated the “Ladies to ye Microcosm” and paid to see waxworks, puppet shows, a dancing bear, and a lioness and tiger. Nor did he avoid a favorite Virginia pastime, but attended cockfights when able. His frequent going to concerts has been already mentioned.

Washington seems to have been little of a reader except of books on agriculture, which he bought, read, and even made careful abstracts of many, and on this subject alone did he ever seem to write from pleasure. As a lad, he notes in his journal that he is reading The Spectator and a history of England, but after those two brief entries there is no further mention of books or reading in his daily memorandum of “where and how my time is spent.” In his ledger, too, almost the least common expenditure entered is one for books. Nor do his London invoices, so far as extant, order any books but those which treated of farming and horses. In the settlement of the Custis estate, “I had no particular reason for keeping and handing down to his son, the books of the late Colo Custis saving that I thought it would be taking the advantage of a low appraisement, to make them my own property at it, and that to sell them was not an object.”

With the broadening that resulted from the command of the army more attention was paid to books, and immediately upon the close of the Revolution Washington ordered the following works: “Life of Charles the Twelfth,” “Life of Louis the Fifteenth,” “Life and Reign of Peter the Great,” Robertson’s “History of America,” Voltaire’s “Letters,” Vertot’s “Revolution of Rome” and “Revolution of Portugal,” “Life of Gustavus Adolphus,” Sully’s “Memoirs,” Goldsmith’s “Natural History,” “Campaigns of Marshal Turenne,” Chambaud’s “French and English Dictionary,” Locke “on the Human Understanding,” and Robertson’s “Charles the Fifth.” From this time on he was a fairly constant book-buyer, and subscribed as a “patron” to a good many forthcoming works, while many were sent him as gifts. On politics he seems to have now read with interest; yet in 1797, after his retirement from the Presidency, in writing of the manner in which he spent his hours, he said, “it may strike you that in this detail no mention is made of any portion of time allotted to reading. The remark would be just, for I have not looked into a book since I came home, nor shall I be able to do it until I have discharged my workmen; probably not before the nights grow long when possibly I may be looking into Doomsday book.” There can be no doubt that through all his life Washington gave to reading only the time he could not use on more practical affairs.

His library was a curious medley of books, if those on military science and agriculture are omitted. There is a fair amount of the standard history of the day, a little theology, so ill assorted as to suggest gifts rather than purchases, a miscellany of contemporary politics, and a very little belles-lettres. In political science the only works in the slightest degree noticeable are Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” “The Federalist,” and Rousseau’s “Social Compact,” and, as the latter was in French, it could not have been read. In lighter literature Homer, Shakespeare, and Burns, Lord Chesterfield, Swift, Smollett, Fielding, and Sterne, and “Don Quixote,” are the only ones deserving notice. It is worthy of mention that Washington’s favorite quotation was Addison’s “’Tis not in mortals to command success,” but he also utilized with considerable aptitude quotations from Shakespeare and Sterne. There were half a dozen of the ephemeral novels of the day, but these were probably Mrs. Washington’s, as her name is written in one, and her husband’s in none. Writing to his grandson, Washington warned him that “light reading (by this, I mean books of little importance) may amuse for the moment, but leaves nothing solid behind.”

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One element of Washington’s reading which cannot be passed over without notice is that of newspapers. In his early life he presumably read the only local paper of the time (the Virginia Gazette), for when an anonymous writer, “Centinel,” in 1756, charged that Washington’s regiment was given over to drunkenness and other misbehavior, he drew up a reply, which he sent with ten shillings to the newspaper, but the printer apparently declined to print it, for it never appeared.

After the Revolution he complained to his Philadelphia agent, “I have such a number of Gazettes, crowded upon me (many without orders) that they are not only expensive, but really useless; as my other avocations will not afford me time to read them oftentimes, and when I do attempt it, find them more troublesome, than profitable; I have therefore to beg, if you Should get Money into your hands on Acct of the Inclosed Certificate, that you would be so good as to pay what I am owing to Messrs Dunlap & Claypoole, Mr. Oswald & Mr. Humphrey’s. If they consider me however as engaged for the year, I am Content to let the matter run on to the Expiration of it” During the Presidency he subscribed to the Gazette of the United States, Brown’s Gazette, Dunlap’s American Advertiser, the Pennsylvania Gazette, Bache’s Aurora, and the New York Magazine, Carey’s Museum, and the Universal Asylum, though at this time he “lamented that the editors of the different gazettes in the Union do not more generally and more correctly (instead of stuffing their papers with scurrility and nonsensical declamation, which few would read if they were apprised of the contents,) publish the debates in Congress on all great national questions.”

Presently, for personal and party reasons, certain of the papers began to attack him, and Jefferson wrote to Madison that the President was “extremely affected by the attacks made and kept up on him in the public papers. I think he feels these things more than any person I ever met with.” Later the Secretary of State noted that at an interview Washington “adverted to a piece in Freneau’s paper of yesterday, he said that he despised all their attacks on him personally, but that there never had been an act of government … that paper had not abused … He was evidently sore and warm.” At a cabinet meeting, too, according to the same writer, “the Presidt was much inflamed, got into one of those passions when he cannot command himself, ran on much on the personal abuse which had been bestowed on him, defied any man on earth to produce a single act of his since he had been in the govmt which was not done on the purest motives, that he had never repented but once the having slipped the moment of resigning his office, & that was every moment since, that by god he had rather be in his grave than in his present situation. That he had rather be on his farm than to be made emperor of the world and yet that they were charging him with wanting to be a king. That that rascal Freneau sent him 3 of his papers every day, as if he thought he would become the distributor of his papers, that he could see in this nothing but an impudent design to insult him. He ended in this high tone. There was a pause.”

To correspondents, too, Washington showed how keenly he felt the attacks upon him, writing that “the publications in Freneau’s and Bache’s papers are outrages on common decency; and they progress in that style in proportion as their pieces are treated with contempt, and are passed by in silence, by those at whom they are aimed,” and asked “in what will this abuse terminate? The result, as it respects myself, I care not; for I have consolation within, that no earthly efforts can deprive me of, and that is, that neither ambitious nor interested motives have influenced my conduct. The arrows of malevolence, therefore however barbed and well pointed, never can reach the most vulnerable part of me; though, whilst I am up as a mark, they will be continually aimed.”

On another occasion he said, “I am beginning to receive, what I had made my mind up for on this occasion, the abuse of Mr. Bache, and his correspondents.” He wrote a friend, “if you read the Aurora of this city, or those gazettes, which are under the same influence, you cannot but have perceived with what malignant industry and persevering falsehoods I am assailed, in order to weaken if not destroy the confidence of the public.”

When he retired from office he apparently cut off his subscriptions to papers, for a few months later he inquired, “what is the character of Porcupine’s Gazette? I had thought when I left Philadelphia, of ordering it to be sent to me; then again, I thought it best not to do it; and altho’ I should like to see both his and Bache’s, the latter may, under all circumstances, be the best decision; I mean not subscribing to either of them.” This decision to have no more to do with papers did not last, for on the night he was seized with his last illness Lear describes how “in the evening the papers having come from the post office, he sat in the room with Mrs. Washington and myself, reading them, till about nine o’clock when Mrs. Washington went up into Mrs. Lewis’s room, who was confined, and left the General and myself reading the papers. He was very cheerful; and, when he met with anything which he thought diverting or interesting, he would read it aloud as well as his hoarseness would permit. He desired me to read to him the debates of the Virginia Assembly, on the election of a Senator and Governor; which I did—and, on hearing Mr. Madison’s observations respecting Mr. Monroe, he appeared much affected, and spoke with some degree of asperity on the subject, which I endeavored to moderate, as I always did on such occasions.”


The frequently repeated statement that Washington was a man without friends is not the least curious of the myths that have obtained general credence. That it should be asserted only goes to show how absolutely his private life has been neglected in the study of his public career.

In his will Washington left tokens of remembrance “to the acquaintances and friends of my juvenile years, Lawrence Washington and Robert Washington of Chotanck,” the latter presumably the “dear Robin” of his earliest letter, and these two very distant kinsmen, whom he had come to know while staying at Wakefield, are the earliest friends of whom any record exists. Contemporary with them was a “Dear Richard,” whose letters gave Washington “unspeakable pleasure, as I am convinced I am still in the memory of so worthy a friend,—a friendship I shall ever be proud of increasing.”

Next in time came his intimacy with the Fairfaxes and Carlyles, which began with Washington’s visits to his brother Lawrence at Mount Vernon. About four miles from that place, at Belvoir, lived the Fairfaxes; and their kinspeople, the Carlyles, lived at Alexandria. Lawrence Washington had married Ann Fairfax, and through his influence his brother George was taken into the employment of Lord Fairfax, half as clerk and half as surveyor of his great tract of land, “the northern neck,” which he had obtained by marriage with a daughter of Lord Culpeper, who in turn had obtained it from the “Merrie Monarch” by means so disreputable that they are best left unstated. From that time till his death Washington corresponded with several of the family and was a constant visitor at Belvoir, as the Fairfaxes were at Mount Vernon.

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In 1755 Washington told his brother that “to that family I am under many obligations, particularly the old gentleman,” but as time went on he more than paid the debt. In 1757 he acted as pallbearer to William Fairfax, and twelve years later his diary records, “Set off with Mrs. Washington and Patsey,… in order to stand for Mr. B. Fairfax’s third son, which I did together with my wife, Mr. Warner Washington and his lady.” For one of the family he obtained an army commission, and for another he undertook the care of his property during a visit to England; a care which unexpectedly lengthened, and was resigned only when Washington’s time became public property. Nor did that lessen his services or the Fairfaxes’ need of them, for in the Revolution that family were loyalists. Despite this, “the friendship,” Washington assured them, “which I ever professed and felt for you, met no diminution from the difference in our political sentiments,” and in 1778 he was able to secure the safety of Lord Fairfax from persecution at the hands of the Whigs, a service acknowledged by his lordship in the following words:

“There are times when favors conferred make a greater impression than at others, for, though I have received many, I hope I have not been unmindful of them; yet that, at a time your popularity was at the highest and mine at the lowest, and when it is so common for men’s resentments to run up high against those, who differ from them in opinion, you should act with your wonted kindness towards me, has affected me more than any favor I have received; and could not be believed by some in New York, it being above the run of common minds.”

In behalf of another member of the family, threatened with confiscation, he wrote to a member of the House of Delegates, “I hope, I trust, that no act of Legislation in the State of Virginia has affected, or can affect, the properly of this gentleman, otherwise than in common with that of every good and well disposed citizen of America,” and this was sufficient to put an end to the project At the close of the war he wrote to this absentee, “There was nothing wanting in [your] Letter to give compleat satisfaction to Mrs. Washington and myself but some expression to induce us to believe you would once more become our neighbors. Your house at Belvoir I am sorry to add is no more, but mine (which is enlarged since you saw it), is most sincerely and heartily at your service till you could rebuild it. As the path, after being closed by a long, arduous, and painful contest, is to use an Indian metaphor, now opened and made smooth, I shall please myself with the hope of hearing from you frequently; and till you forbid me to indulge the wish, I shall not despair of seeing you and Mrs. Fairfax once more the inhabitants of Belvoir, and greeting you both there the intimate companions of our old age, as you have been of our younger years.” And to another he left a token of remembrance in his will.

One of the most curious circle of friends was that composed of Indians. After his mission among them in 1753, Washington wrote to a tribe and signed himself “your friend and brother.” In a less general sense he requested an Indian agent to “recommend me kindly to Mononcatoocha and others; tell them how happy it would make Conotocarius to have an opportunity of taking them by the hand.” A little later he had this pleasure, and he wrote the governor, “the Indians are all around teasing and perplexing me for one thing or another, so that I scarce know what I write.” When Washington left the frontier this intercourse ceased, but he was not forgotten, for in descending the Ohio in his Western trip of 1770 a hunting party was met, and “in the person of Kiashuto I found an old acquaintance, he being one of the Indians that went [with me] to the French in 1753. He expressed satisfaction at seeing me, and treated us with great kindness, giving us a quarter of very fine buffalo. He insisted upon our spending that night with him, and, in order to retard us as little as possible moved his camp down the river.”

With his appointment to the Virginia regiment came military friends. From the earliest of these—Van Braam, who had served under Lawrence Washington in the Carthagena expedition of 1742, and who had come to live at Mount Vernon—Washington had previously taken lessons in fencing, and when appointed the bearer of a letter to the French commander on the Ohio he took Van Braam with him as interpreter. A little later, on receiving his majority, Washington appointed Van Braam his recruiting lieutenant, and recommended him to the governor for a captain’s commission on the grounds that he was “an experienced good officer.” To Van Braam fell the duty of translating the capitulation to the French at Fort Necessity, and to his reading was laid the blunder by which Washington signed a statement acknowledging himself as an “assassin.” Inconsequence he became the scapegoat of the expedition, was charged by the governor with being a “poltroon” and traitor, and was omitted from the Assembly’s vote of thanks and extra pay to the regiment. But Washington stood by him, and when himself burgess succeeded in getting this latter vote rescinded.

Another friend of the same period was the Chevalier Peyroney, whom Washington first made an ensign, and then urged the governor to advance him, promising that if the governor “should be pleased to indulge me in this request, I shall look upon it in a very particular light.” Peyroney was badly wounded at Fort Necessity and was furloughed, during which he wrote his commander, “I have made my particular Business to tray if any had some Bad intention against you here Below; But thank God I meet allowais with a good wish for you from evry Mouth each one entertining such Caracter of you as I have the honour to do myself.” He served again in the Braddock march, and in that fiasco, Washington wrote, “Captain Peyroney and all his officers down to a corporal, was killed.”

With Captain Stewart—“a gentleman whose assiduity and military capacity are second to none in our Service”—Washington was intimate enough to have Stewart apply in 1763 for four hundred pounds to aid him to purchase a commission, a sum Washington did not have at his disposal. But because of “a regard of that high nature that I could never see you uneasy without feeling a part and wishing to remove the cause,” Washington lent him three hundred pounds towards it, apparently without much return, for some years later he wrote to a friend that he was “very glad to learn that my friend Stewart was well when you left London. I have not had a letter from him these five years.” At the close of the Revolution he received a letter from Stewart containing “affectionate and flattering expressions,” which gave Washington “much pleasure,” as it “removed an apprehension I had long labored under, of your having taken your departure for the land of Spirits. How else could I account for a silence of 15 years. I shall always be happy to see you at Mt. Vernon.”

His friend William Ramsay—“well known, well-esteemed, and of unblemished character”—he appointed commissary, and long after, in 1769, wrote,—

“Having once or twice of late heard you speak highly in praise of the Jersey College, as if you had a desire of sending your son William there … I should be glad, if you have no other objection to it than what may arise from the expense, if you would send him there as soon as it is convenient, and depend on me for twenty-five pounds this currency a year for his support, so long as it may be necessary for the completion of his education. If I live to see the accomplishment of this term, the sum here stipulated shall he annually paid; and if I die in the mean while, this letter shall be obligatory upon my heirs, or executors, to do it according to the true intent and meaning hereof. No other return is expected, or wished, for this offer, than that you will accept it with the same freedom and good will, with which it is made, and that you may not even consider it in the light of an obligation or mention it as such; for, be assured, that from me it will never be known.”

The dearest friendship formed in these years was with the doctor of the regiment, James Craik, who in the course of his duties attended Washington in two serious illnesses, and when the war was ended settled near Mount Vernon. He was frequently a visitor there, and soon became the family medical attendant. When appointed General, Washington wrote, “tell Doctor Craik that I should be very glad to see him here if there was anything worth his acceptance; but the Massachusetts people suffer nothing to go by them that they lay hands upon.” In 1777 the General secured his appointment as deputy surgeon-general of the Middle Department, and three years later, when the hospital service was being reformed, he used his influence to have him retained. Craik was one of those instrumental in warning the commander-in-chief of the existence of the Conway Cabal, because “my attachment to your person is such, my friendship is so sincere, that every hint which has a tendency to hurt your honor, wounds me most sensibly.” The doctor was Washington’s companion, by invitation, in both his later trips to the Ohio, and his trust in him was so strong that he put under his care the two nephews whose charge he had assumed. In Washington’s ledger an entry tells of another piece of friendliness, to the effect, “Dr. James Craik, paid him, being a donation to his son, Geo. Washington Craik for his education £30,” and after graduating the young man for a time served as one of his private secretaries. After a serious illness in 1789, Washington wrote to the doctor, “persuaded as I am, that the case has been treated with skill, and with as much tenderness as the nature of the complaint would admit, yet I confess I often wished for your inspection of it,” and later he wrote, “if I should ever have occasion for a Physician or Surgeon, I should prefer my old Surgeon, Dr. Craik, who, from 40 years’ experience, is better qualified than a Dozen of them put together.” Craik was the first of the doctors to reach Washington’s bedside in his last illness, and when the dying man predicted his own death, “the Doctor pressed his hand but could not utter a word. He retired from the bedside and sat by the fire absorbed in grief.” In Washington’s will he left “to my compatriot in arms and old and intimate friend, Doctor Craik I give my Bureau (or as the Cabinet makers called it, Tambour Secretary) and the circular chair, an appendage of my study.”

The arrival of Braddock and his army at Alexandria brought a new circle of military friends. Washington “was very particularly noticed by that General, was taken into his family as an extra aid, offered a Captain’s commission by brevet (which was the highest grade he had it in his power to bestow) and had the compliment of several blank Ensigncies given him to dispose of to the Young Gentlemen of his acquaintance.” In this position he was treated “with much complaisance … especially from the General,” which meant much, as Braddock seems to have had nothing but curses for nearly every one else, and the more as Washington and he “had frequent disputes,” which were “maintained with warmth on both sides, especially on his.” But the general, “though his enmities were strong,” in “his attachments” was “warm,” and grew to like and trust the young volunteer, and had he “survived his unfortunate defeat, I should have met with preferment,” having “his promise to that effect.” Washington was by the general when he was wounded in the lungs, lifted him into a covered cart, and “brought him over the first ford of the Monongahela,” into temporary safety. Three days later Braddock died of his wounds, bequeathing to Washington his favorite horse and his body-servant as tokens of his gratitude. Over him Washington read the funeral service, and it was left to him to see that “the poor general” was interred “with the honors of war.”

Even before public service had made him known, Washington was a friend and guest of many of the leading Virginians. Between 1747 and 1754 he visited the Carters of Shirley, Nomony, and Sabine Hall, the Lewises of Warner Hall, the Lees of Stratford, and the Byrds of Westover, and there was acquaintance at least with the Spotswoods, Fauntleroys, Corbins, Randolphs, Harrisons, Robinsons, Nicholases, and other prominent families. In fact, one friend wrote him, “your health and good fortune are the toast of every table,” and another that “the Council and Burgesses are mostly your friends,” and those two bodies included every Virginian of real influence. It was Richard Corbin who enclosed him his first commission, in a brief note, beginning “Dear George” and ending “your friend,” but in time relations became more or less strained, and Washington suspected him “of representing my character … with ungentlemanly freedom.” With John Robinson, “Speaker” and Treasurer of Virginia, who wrote Washington in 1756, “our hopes, dear George, are all fixed on you,” a close correspondence was maintained, and when Washington complained of the governor’s course towards him Robinson replied, “I beg dear friend, that you will bear, so far as a man of honor ought, the discouragements and slights you have too often met with.” The son, Beverly Robinson, was a fellow-soldier, and, as already mentioned, was Washington’s host on his visit to New York in 1756. The Revolution interrupted the friendship, but it is alleged that Robinson (who was deep in the Arnold plot) made an appeal to the old-time relation in an endeavor to save André. The appeal was in vain, but auld lang syne had its influence, for the sons of Beverly, British officers taken prisoners in 1779, were promptly exchanged, so one of them asserted, “in consequence of the embers of friendship that still remained unextinguished in the breasts of my father and General Washington.”

Outside of his own colony, too, Washington made friends of many prominent families, with whom there was more or less interchange of hospitality. Before the Revolution there had been visiting or breaking of bread with the Galloways, Dulaneys, Carrolls, Calverts, Jenifers, Edens, Ringgolds, and Tilghmans of Maryland, the Penns, Cadwaladers, Morrises, Shippens, Aliens, Dickinsons, Chews, and Willings of Pennsylvania, and the De Lanceys and Bayards of New York.

Election to the Continental Congress strengthened some friendships and added new ones. With Benjamin Harrison he was already on terms of intimacy, and as long as the latter was in Congress he was the member most in the confidence of the General. Later they differed in politics, but Washington assured Harrison that “my friendship is not in the least lessened by the difference, which has taken place in our political sentiments, nor is my regard for you diminished by the part you have acted.” Joseph Jones and Patrick Henry both took his part against the Cabal, and the latter did him especial service in forwarding to him the famous anonymous letter, an act for which Washington felt “most grateful obligations.” Henry and Washington differed later in politics, and it was reported that the latter spoke disparagingly of the former, but this Washington denied, and not long after offered Henry the Secretaryship of State. Still later he made a personal appeal to him to come forward and combat the Virginia resolutions of 1798, an appeal to which Henry responded. The intimacy with Robert Morris was close, and, as already noted, Washington and his family were several times inmates of his home. Gouverneur Morris was one of his most trusted advisers, and, it is claimed, gave the casting vote which saved Washington from being arrested in 1778, when the Cabal was fiercest. While President, Washington sent him on a most important mission to Great Britain, and on its completion made him Minister to France. From that post the President was, at the request of France, compelled to recall him; but in doing so Washington wrote him a private letter assuring Morris that he “held the same place in my estimation” as ever, and signed himself “yours affectionately.” Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a partisan of the General, and very much disgusted a member of the Cabal by telling him “almost literally that anybody who displeased or did not admire the Commander-in-chief, ought not to be kept in the army.” And to Edward Rutledge Washington wrote, “I can but love and thank you, and I do it sincerely for your polite and friendly letter…. The sentiments contained in it are such as have uniformly flowed from your pen, and they are not the less flattering than pleasing to me.”

The command of the Continental army brought a new kind of friend, in the young aides of his staff. One of his earliest appointments was Joseph Reed, and, though he remained but five months in the service, a close friendship was formed. Almost weekly Washington wrote him in the most confidential and affectionate manner, and twice he appealed to Reed to take the position once more, in one instance adding that if “you are disposed to continue with me, I shall think myself too fortunate and happy to wish for a change.” Yet Washington none the less sent Reed congratulations on his election to the Pennsylvania Assembly, “although I consider it the coup-de-grace to my ever seeing you” again a “member of my family,” to help him he asked a friend to endeavor to get Reed legal business, and when all law business ceased and the would-be lawyer was without occupation or means of support, he used his influence to secure him the appointment of adjutant.

Reed kept him informed as to the news of Philadelphia, and wrote even such adverse criticism of the General as he heard, which Washington “gratefully” acknowledged. But one criticism Reed did not write was what he himself was saying of his general after the fall of Fort Washington, for which he blamed the commander-in-chief in a letter to Lee, and probably to others, for when later Reed and Arnold quarrelled, the latter boasted that “I can say I never basked in the sunshine of my general’s favor, and courted him to his face, when I was at the same time treating him with the greatest disrespect and villifying his character when absent. This is more than a ruling member of the Council of Pennsylvania can say.” Washington learned of this criticism in a letter from Lee to Reed, which was opened at head-quarters on the supposition that it was on army matters, and “with no idea of its being a private letter, much less the tendency of the correspondence,” as Washington explained in a letter to Reed, which had not a word of reproach for the double-dealing that must have cut the General keenly, coming as it did at a moment of misfortune and discouragement. Reed wrote a lame explanation and apology, and later sought to “regain” the “lost friendship” by an earnest appeal to Washington’s generosity. Nor did he appeal in vain, for the General replied that though “I felt myself hurt by a certain letter … I was hurt … because the same sentiments were not communicated immediately to myself.” The old-time intimacy was renewed, and how little his personal feeling had influenced Washington is shown in the fact that even previous to this peace-making he had secured for Reed the appointment to command one of the choicest brigades in the army. Perhaps the friendship was never quite as close, but in writing him Washington still signed himself “yours affectionately.”

John Laurens, appointed an aide in 1777, quickly endeared himself to Washington, and conceived the most ardent affection for his chief. The young officer of twenty-four used all his influence with his father (then President of Congress) against the Cabal, and in 1778, when Charles Lee was abusing the commander-in-chief, Laurens thought himself bound to resent it, “as well on account of the relation he bore to General Washington, as from motives of personal friendship and respect for his character,” and he challenged the defamer and put a bullet into him. To his commander he signed himself “with the greatest veneration and attachment your Excellency’s Faithful Aid,” and Washington in his letters always addressed him as “my dear Laurens.” After his death in battle, Washington wrote, in reply to an inquiry,—

“You ask if the character of Colonel John Laurens, as drawn in the Independent Chronicle of 2d of December last, is just. I answer, that such parts of the drawing as have fallen under my observation, is literally so; and that it is my firm belief his merits and worth richly entitle him to the whole picture. No man possessed more of the amor patriae. In a word, he had not a fault, that I could discover, unless intrepidity bordering upon rashness could come under that denomination; and to this he was excited by the purest motives.”

Of another aide, Tench Tilghman, Washington said, “he has been a zealous servant and slave to the public, and a faithful assistant to me for near five years, great part of which time he refused to receive pay. Honor and gratitude interest me in his favor.” As an instance of this, the commander-in-chief gave to him the distinction of bearing to Congress the news of the surrender of Cornwallis, with the request to that body that Tilghman should be honored in some manner. And in acknowledging a letter Washington said, “I receive with great sensibility and pleasure your assurances of affection and regard. It would be but a renewal of what I have often repeated to you, that there are few men in the world to whom I am more attached by inclination than I am to you. With the Cause, I hope—most devoutly hope—there will be an end to my Military Service, when as our places of residence will not be far apart, I shall never be more happy than in your Company at Mt. Vernon. I shall always be glad to hear from, and keep up a correspondence with you.” When Tilghman died, Washington asserted that

“He had left as fair a reputation as ever belonged to a human character,” and to his father he wrote, “Of all the numerous acquaintances of your lately deceased son, & midst all the sorrowings that are mingled on that melancholy occasion, I may venture to assert that (excepting those of his nearest relatives) none could have felt his death with more regret than I did, because no one entertained a higher opinion of his worth, or had imbibed sentiments of greater friendship for him than I had done…. Midst all your grief, there is this consolation to be drawn;—that while living, no man could be more esteemed, and since dead, none more lamented than Colo. Tilghman.”

To David Humphreys, a member of the staff, Washington gave the honor of carrying to Congress the standards captured at Yorktown, recommending him to the notice of that body for his “attention, fidelity, and good services.” This aide escorted Washington to Mount Vernon at the close of the Revolution, and was “the last officer belonging to the army” who parted from “the Commander-in-chief.” Shortly after, Humphreys returned to Mount Vernon, half as secretary and half as visitor and companion, and he alluded to this time in his poem of “Mount Vernon,” when he said,—

“Twas mine, return’d from Europe’s courts
To share his thoughts, partake his sports.”

When Washington was accused of cruelty in the Asgill case, Humphreys published an account of the affair, completely vindicating his friend, for which he was warmly thanked. He was frequently urged to come to Mount Vernon, and Washington on one occasion lamented “the cause which has deprived us of your aid in the attack of Christmas pies,” and on another assured Humphreys of his “great pleasure [when] I received the intimation of your spending the winter under this Roof. The invitation was not less sincere, than the reception will be cordial. The only stipulations I shall contend for are, that in all things you shall do as you please—I will do the same; and that no ceremony may be used or any restraint be imposed on any one.” Humphreys was visiting him when the notification of his election as President was received, and was the only person, except servants, who accompanied Washington to New York. Here he continued for a time to give his assistance, and was successively appointed Indian commissioner, informal agent to Spain, and finally Minister to Portugal. While holding this latter position Washington wrote to him, “When you shall think with the poet that ‘the post of honor is a private station’—& may be inclined to enjoy yourself in my shades … I can only tell you that you will meet with the same cordial reception at Mount Vernon that you have always experienced at that place,” and when Humphreys answered that his coming marriage made the visit impossible, Washington replied, “The desire of a companion in my latter days, in whom I could confide … induced me to express too strongly … the hope of having you as an inmate.” On the death of Washington, Humphreys published a poem expressing the deepest affection and admiration for “my friend.”

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The longest and closest connection was that with Hamilton. This very young and obscure officer attracted Washington’s attention in the campaign of 1776, early in the next year was appointed to the staff, and quickly became so much a favorite that Washington spoke of him as “my boy.” Whatever friendliness this implied was not, however, reciprocated by Hamilton. After four years of service, he resigned, under circumstances to which he pledged Washington to secrecy, and then himself, in evident irritation, wrote as follows:

“Two days ago, the General and I passed each other on the stairs. He told me he wanted to speak to me. I answered that I would wait upon him immediately. I went below, and delivered Mr. Tilghman a letter to be sent to the commissary, containing an order of a pressing and interesting nature. Returning to the General, I was stopped on the way by the Marquis de Lafayette, and we conversed together about a minute on a matter of business. He can testify how impatient I was to get back, and that I left him in a manner which, but for our intimacy would have been more than abrupt. Instead of finding the General, as is usual, in his room, I met him at the head of the stairs, where, accosting me in an angry tone, ‘Colonel Hamilton,’ said he ‘you have kept me waiting at the head of the stairs these ten minutes. I must tell you, sir, you treat me with disrespect.’ I replied without petulancy, but with decision: ‘I am not conscious of it, sir; but since you have thought it necessary to tell me so, we part.’ ‘Very well, sir,’ said he, ‘if it be your choice,’ or something to this effect, and we separated. I sincerely believe my absence, which gave so much umbrage, did not last two minutes. In less than an hour after, Tilghman came to me in the General’s name, assuring me of his great confidence in my abilities, integrity, usefulness, etc, and of his desire, in a candid conversation, to heal a difference which could not have happened but in a moment of passion. I requested Mr Tilghman to tell him—1st. That I had taken my resolution in a manner not to be revoked … Thus we stand … Perhaps you may think I was precipitate in rejecting the overture made by the General to an accomodation. I assure you, my dear sir, it was not the effect of resentment; it was the deliberate result of maxims I had long formed for the government of my own conduct…. I believe you know the place I held in the General’s confidence and counsels, which will make more extraordinary to you to learn that for three years past I have felt no friendship for him and have professed none. The truth is, our dispositions are the opposites of each other, and the pride of my temper would not suffer me to profess what I did not feel. Indeed, when advances of this kind have been made to me on his part, they were received in a manner that showed at least that I had no desire to court them, and that I desired to stand rather upon a footing of military confidence than of private attachment.”

Had Washington been the man this letter described he would never have forgiven this treatment. On the contrary, only two months later, when compelled to refuse for military reasons a favor Hamilton asked, he said that “my principal concern arises from an apprehension that you will impute my refusal to your request to other motives.” On this refusal Hamilton enclosed his commission to Washington, but “Tilghman came to me in his name, pressed me to retain my commission, with an assurance that he would endeavor, by all means, to give me a command.” Later Washington did more than Hamilton himself had asked, when he gave him the leading of the storming party at Yorktown, a post envied by every officer in the army.

Apparently this generosity lessened Hamilton’s resentment, for a correspondence on public affairs was maintained from this time on, though Madison stated long after “that Hamilton often spoke disparagingly of Washington’s talents, particularly after the Revolution and at the first part of the presidentcy,” and Benjamin Rush confirms this by a note to the effect that “Hamilton often spoke with contempt of General Washington. He said that … his heart was a stone.” The rumor of the ill feeling was turned to advantage by Hamilton’s political opponents in 1787, and compelled the former to appeal to Washington to save him from the injury the story was doing. In response Washington wrote a letter intended for public use, in which he said,—

“As you say it is insinuated by some of your political adversaries, and may obtain credit, ‘that you palmed yourself upon me, and was dismissed from my family,’ and call upon me to do you justice by a recital of the facts, I do therefore explicitly declare, that both charges are entirely unfounded. With respect to the first, I have no cause to believe, that you took a single step to accomplish, or had the most distant idea of receiving an appointment in my family till you were invited in it; and, with respect to the second, that your quitting it was altogether the effect of your own choice.”

With the appointment as Secretary of the Treasury warmer feelings were developed. Hamilton became the President’s most trusted official, and was tireless in the aid he gave his superior. Even after he left office he performed many services equivalent to official ones, for which Washington did “not know how to thank” him “sufficiently,” and the President leaned on his judgment to an otherwise unexampled extent. This service produced affection and respect, and in 1792 Washington wrote from Mount Vernon, “We have learnt … that you have some thoughts of taking a trip this way. I felt pleasure at hearing it, and hope it is unnecessary to add, that it would be considerably increased by seeing you under this roof; for you may be assured of the sincere and affectionate regard of yours, &c.” and signed other letters “always and affectionately yours,” or “very affectionately,” while Hamilton reciprocated by sending “affectionate attachment.”

On being appointed lieutenant-general in 1798, Washington at once sought the aid of Hamilton for the highest position under him, assuring the Secretary of War that “of the abilities and fitness of the gentleman you have named for a high command in the provisional army, I think as you do, and that his services ought to be secured at almost any price.” To this the President, who hated Hamilton, objected, but Washington refused to take the command unless this wish was granted, and Adams had to give way. They stood in this relation when Washington died, and almost the last letter he penned was to this friend. On learning of the death, Hamilton wrote of “our beloved Commander-in-chief,”—

“The very painful event … filled my heart with bitterness. Perhaps no man in this community has equal cause with myself to deplore the loss. I have been much indebted to the kindness of the General, and he was an Ægis very essential to me. But regrets are unavailing. For great misfortunes it is the business of reason to seek consolation. The friends of General Washington have very noble ones. If virtue can secure happiness in another world, he is happy.”

Knox was the earliest army friend of those who rose to the rank of general, and was honored by Washington with absolute trust. After the war the two corresponded, and Knox expressed “unalterable affection” for the “thousand evidences of your friendship.” He was appointed Secretary of War in the first administration, and in taking command of the provisional army Washington secured his appointment as a major-general, and at this time asserted that, “with respect to General Knox I can say with truth there is no man in the United States with whom I have been in habits of greater intimacy, no one whom I have loved more sincerely nor any for whom I have had a greater friendship.”

Greene was perhaps the closest to Washington of all the generals, and their relations might be dwelt upon at much length. But the best evidence of friendship is in Washington’s treatment of a story involving his financial honesty, of which he said, “persuaded as I always have been of Genl Greene’s integrity and worth, I spurned those reports which tended to calumniate his conduct … being perfectly convinced that whenever the matter should be investigated, his motives … would appear pure and unimpeachable.” When on Greene’s death Washington heard that his family was left in embarrassed circumstances, he offered, if Mrs. Greene would “entrust my namesake G. Washington Greene to my care, I will give him as good an education as this country (I mean the United States) will afford, and will bring him up to either of the genteel professions that his frds. may chuse, or his own inclination shall lead him to pursue, at my own cost & expence.”

For “Light-horse Harry” Lee an affection more like that given to the youngsters of the staff was felt Long after the war was over, Lee began a letter to him “Dear General,” and then continued,—

“Although the exalted station, which your love of us and our love of you has placed you in, calls for change in mode of address, yet I cannot so quickly relinquish the old manner. Your military rank holds its place in my mind, notwithstanding your civic glory; and, whenever I do abandon the title which used to distinguish you, I shall do it with awkwardness…. My reluctance to trespass a moment on your time would have operated to a further procrastination of my wishes, had I not been roused above every feeling of ceremony by the heart rending intelligence, received yesterday, that your life was despaired of. Had I had wings in the moment, I should have wafted myself to your bedside, only again to see the first of men; but alas! despairing as I was, from the account received, after the affliction of one day and night, I was made most happy by receiving a letter, now before me from New York, announcing the restoration of your health. May heaven preserve it!”

It was Lee who first warned Washington that Jefferson was slandering him in secret, and who kept him closely informed as to the political manuvres in Virginia. Washington intrusted to him the command of the army in the Whiskey Insurrection, and gave him an appointment in the provisional army. Lee was in Congress when the death of the great American was announced to that body, and it was he who coined the famous “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

As need hardly be said, however, the strongest affection among the general officers was that between Washington and Lafayette. In the advent of this young Frenchman the commander saw only “embarassment,” but he received “the young volunteer,” so Lafayette said, “in the most friendly manner,” invited him to reside in his house as a member of his military family, and as soon as he came to know him he recommended Congress to give him a command. As Lafayette became popular with the army, an endeavor was made by the Cabal to win him to their faction by bribing him with an appointment to lead an expedition against Canada, independent of control by Washington. Lafayette promptly declined the command, unless subject to the General, and furthermore he “braved the whole party (Cabal) and threw them into confusion by making them drink the health of their general.” At the battle of Monmouth Washington gave the command of the attacking party to Lafayette, and after the conflict the two, according to the latter, “passed the night lying on the same mantle, talking.” In the same way Washington distinguished him by giving him the command of the expedition to rescue Virginia from Cornwallis, and to his division was given the most honorable position at Yorktown. When the siege of that place was completed, Lafayette applied for leave of absence to spend the winter in France, and as he was on the point of sailing he received a personal letter from Washington, for “I owe it to friendship and to my affectionate regard for you my dear Marquis, not to let you leave this country without carrying fresh marks of my attachment to you,” and in his absence Washington wrote that a mutual friend who bore a letter “can tell you more forcibly, than I can express how much we all love and wish to embrace you.”

A reunion came in 1784, looked forward to by Lafayette with an eagerness of which he wrote, “by Sunday or Monday, I hope at last to be blessed with a sight of my dear General. There is no rest for me till I go to Mount Vernon. I long for the pleasure to embrace you, my dear General; and the happiness of being once more with you will be so great, that no words can ever express it. Adieu, my dear General; in a few days I shall be at Mount Vernon, and I do already feel delighted with so charming a prospect.” After this visit was over Washington wrote, “In the moment of our separation, upon the road as I travelled, and every hour since, I have felt all that love, respect and attachment for you, with which length of years, close connexion, and your merits have inspired me. I often asked myself, as our carriages separated, whether that was the last sight I ever should have of you?” And to this letter Lafayette replied,—

“No my beloved General, our late parting was not by any means a last interview. My whole soul revolts at the idea; and could I harbour it an instant, indeed, my dear General, it would make me miserable. I well see you will never go to France. The inexpressible pleasure of embracing you in my own house, of welcoming you in a family where your name is adored, I do not much expect to experience; but to you I shall return, and, within the walls of Mount Vernon, we shall yet speak of olden times. My firm plan is to visit now and then my friend on this side of the Atlantic; and the most beloved of all friends I ever had, or ever shall have anywhere, is too strong an inducement for me to return to him, not to think that whenever it is possible I shall renew my so pleasing visits to Mount Vernon…. Adieu, adieu, my dear General. It is with inexpressible pain that I feel I am going to be severed from you by the Atlantic. Everything, that admiration, respect, gratitude, friendship, and fillial love, can inspire, is combined in my affectionate heart to devote me most tenderly to you. In your friendship I find a delight which words cannot express. Adieu, my dear General. It is not without emotion that I write this word, although I know I shall soon visit you again. Be attentive to your health. Let me hear from you every month. Adieu, adieu.”

The correspondence begged was maintained, but Lafayette complained that “To one who so tenderly loves you, who so happily enjoyed the times we have passed together, and who never, on any part of the globe, even in his own house, could feel himself so perfectly at home as in your family, it must be confessed that an irregular, lengthy correspondence is quite insufficient I beseech you, in the name of our friendship, of that paternal concern of yours for my happiness, not to miss any opportunity to let me hear from my dear General.”

One letter from Washington told Lafayette of his recovery from a serious illness, and Lafayette responded, “What could have been my feelings, had the news of your illness reached me before I knew my beloved General, my adopted father, was out of danger? I was struck at the idea of the situation you have been in, while I, uninformed and so distant from you, was anticipating the long-waited-for pleasure to hear from you, and the still more endearing prospect of visiting you and presenting you the tribute of a revolution, one of your first offsprings. For God’s sake, my dear General, take care of your health!”

Presently, as the French Revolution gathered force, the anxiety was reversed, Washington writing that “The lively interest which I take in your welfare, my dear Sir, keeps my mind in constant anxiety for your personal safety.” This fear was only too well founded, for shortly after Lafayette was a captive in an Austrian prison and his wife was appealing to her husband’s friend for help. Our ministers were told to do all they could to secure his liberty, and Washington wrote a personal letter to the Emperor of Austria. Before receiving her letter, on the first news of the “truly affecting” condition of “poor Madame Lafayette,” he had written to her his sympathy, and, supposing that money was needed, had deposited at Amsterdam two hundred guineas “subject to your orders.”

When she and her daughters joined her husband in prison, Lafayette’s son, and Washington’s godson, came to America; an arrival of which the godfather wrote that, “to express all the sensibility, which has been excited in my breast by the receipt of young Lafayette’s letter, from the recollection of his father’s merits, services, and sufferings, from my friendship for him, and from my wishes to become a friend and father to his son is unnecessary.” The lad became a member of the family, and a visitor at this time records that “I was particularly struck with the marks of affection which the General showed his pupil, his adopted son of Marquis de Lafayette. Seated opposite to him, he looked at him with pleasure, and listened to him with manifest interest.” With Washington he continued till the final release of his father, and a simple business note in Washington’s ledger serves to show both his delicacy and his generosity to the boy: “By Geo. W. Fayette, gave for the purpose of his getting himself such small articles of Clothing as he might not choose to ask for $100.” Another item in the accounts was three hundred dollars “to defray his exps. to France,” and by him Washington sent a line to his old friend, saying, “this letter I hope and expect will be presented to you by your son, who is highly deserving of such parents as you and your amiable lady.”

Long previous to this, too, a letter had been sent to Virginia Lafayette, couched in the following terms:

“Permit me to thank my dear little correspondent for the favor of her letter of the 18 of June last, and to impress her with the idea of the pleasure I shall derive from a continuance of them. Her papa is restored to her with all the good health, paternal affection, and honors, which her tender heart could wish. He will carry a kiss to her from me (which might be more agreeable from a pretty boy), and give her assurances of the affectionate regard with which I have the pleasure of being her well-wisher,

George Washington.”

In this connection it is worth glancing at Washington’s relations with children, the more that it has been frequently asserted that he had no liking for them. As already shown, at different times he adopted or assumed the expenses and charge of not less than nine of the children of his kith and kin, and to his relations with children he seldom wrote a letter without a line about the “little ones.” His kindnesses to the sons of Ramsay, Craik, Greene, and Lafayette have already been noticed. Furthermore, whenever death or illness came among the children of his friends there was sympathy expressed. Dumas relates of his visit to Providence with Washington, that “we arrived there at night; the whole of the population had assembled from the suburbs; we were surrounded by a crowd of children carrying torches, reiterating the acclamations of the citizens; all were eager to approach the person of him whom they called their father, and pressed so closely around us that they hindered us from proceeding. General Washington was much affected, stopped a few moments, and, pressing my hand, said, ‘We may be beaten by the English; it is the chance of war; but behold an army which they can never conquer,’”

In his journey through New England, not being able to get lodgings at an inn, Washington spent a night in a private house, and when all payment was refused, he wrote his host from his next stopping-place,—

“Being informed that you have given my name to one of your sons, and called another after Mrs. Washington’s family, and being moreover very much pleased with the modest and innocent looks of your two daughters, Patty and Polly, I do for these reasons send each of these girls a piece of chintz; and to Patty, who bears the name of Mrs. Washington, and who waited upon us more than Polly did, I send five guineas, with which she may buy herself any little ornaments she may want, or she may dispose of them in any other manner more agreeable to herself. As I do not give these things with a view to have it talked of, or even of its being known, the less there is said about the matter the better you will please me; but, that I may be sure the chintz and money have got safe to hand, let Patty, who I dare say is equal to it, write me a line informing me thereof, directed to ‘The President of the United States at New York.’”

Miss Stuart relates that “One morning while Mr. Washington was sitting for his picture, a little brother of mine ran into the room, when my father thinking it would annoy the General, told him he must leave; but the General took him upon his knee, held him for some time, and had quite a little chat with him, and, in fact, they seemed to be pleased with each other. My brother remembered with pride, as long as he lived, that Washington had talked with him.”

For the son of his secretary, Lear, there seems to have been great fondness, and in one instance the father was told that “It gave Mrs. Washington, myself and all who know him, sincere pleasure to hear that our little favorite had arrived safe, and was in good health at Portsmouth. We sincerely wish him a long continuance of the latter—that he may always be as charming and promising as he now is—and that he may live to be a comfort and blessing to you, and an ornament to his country. As a testimony of my affection for him I send him a ticket in the lottery which is now drawing in the Federal City; and if it should be his fortune to draw the hotel it will add to the pleasure I have in giving it.” A second letter condoled with “little Lincoln,” because owing to the collapse of the lottery the “poor little fellow” will not even get enough to “build him a baby house.”

For the father, Tobias Lear, who came into his employment in 1786 and remained with him till his death, Washington felt the greatest affection and trust. It was he who sent for the doctor in the beginning of the last illness, and he was in the sickroom most of the time. Holding Washington’s hand, he received from him his last orders, and later when Washington “appeared to be in great pain and distress from the difficulty of breathing … I lay upon the bed and endeavored to raise him, and turn him with as much ease as possible. He appeared penetrated with gratitude for my attentions, and often said ‘I am afraid I shall fatigue you too much.’” Still later Lear “aided him all in my power, and was gratified in believing he felt it; for he would look upon me with eyes speaking gratitude, but unable to utter a word without great distress.” At the final moment Lear took his hand “and laid it upon his breast.” When all was over, “I kissed the cold hand, laid it down, and was … lost in profound grief.”


Any man of force is to be known quite as much by the character of his enemies as by that of his friends, and this is true of Washington. The subject offers some difficulties, for most of his enemies later in life went out of their way to deny all antagonism, and took pains to destroy such proof as they could come at of ill-feeling towards him. Yet enough remains to show who were in opposition to him, and on what grounds.

The first of those now known to be opposed to him was George Muse, lieutenant-colonel in 1754 under Washington. At Fort Necessity he was guilty of cowardice, he was discharged in disgrace, and his name was omitted from the Assembly’s vote of thanks to the regiment. Stung by this action, he took his revenge in a manner related by Peyroney, who wrote Washington,—

“Many enquired to me about Muse’s Braveries, poor Body I had pity him ha’nt he had the weakness to Confes his Coardise himself, & the impudence to taxe all the reste of the oficers without exception of the same imperfection for he said to many of the Consulars and Burgeses that he was Bad But th’ the reste was as Bad as he—To speak francly, had I been in town at that time I cou’nt help’d to make use of my horses [whip] whereas for to vindicate the injury of that vilain. He Contrived his Business so that several ask me if it was true that he had Challeng’d you to fight: My Answer was no other But that he should rather chuse to go to hell than doing of it—for he had Such thing declar’d: that was his Sure Road.”

Washington seems to have cherished no personal ill-will for Muse’s conduct, and when the division of the “bounty lands” was being pushed, he used his influence that the broken officer should receive a quotum. Not knowing this, or else being ungrateful, Muse seems to have written a letter to Washington which angered him, for he replied,—

“Sir, Your impertinent letter was delivered to me yesterday. As I am not accustomed to receive such from any man, nor would have taken the same language from you personally, without letting you feel some marks of my resentment, I would advise you to be cautious in writing me a second of the same tenor. But for your stupidity and sottishness you might have known, by attending to the public gazette, that you had your full quantity of ten thousand acres of land allowed you, that is, nine thousand and seventy-three acres in the great tract, and the remainder in the small tract. But suppose you had really fallen short, do you think your superlative merit entitles you to greater indulgence than others? Or, if it did, that I was to make it good to you, when it was at the option of the Governor and Council to allow but five hundred acres in the whole, if they had been so inclined? If either of these should happen to be your opinion, I am very well convinced that you will be singular in it; and all my concern is, that I ever engaged in behalf of so ungrateful a fellow as you are. But you may still be in need of my assistance, as I can inform you, that your affairs, in respect to these lands, do not stand upon so solid a basis as you imagine, and this you may take by way of hint. I wrote to you a few days ago concerning the other distribution, proposing an easy method of dividing our lands; but since I find in what temper you are, I am sorry I took the trouble of mentioning the land or your name in a letter, as I do not think you merit the least assistance from me.”

The Braddock campaign brought acquaintance with one which did not end in friendship, however amicable the beginning. There can be little doubt that there was cameraderie with the then Lieutenant-Colonel Gage, for in 1773, when in New York for four days, Washington “Dined with Gen. Gage,” and also “dined at the entertainment given by the citizens of New York to Genl. Gage.” When next intercourse was resumed, it was by formal correspondence between the commanders-in-chief of two hostile armies, Washington inquiring as to the treatment of prisoners, and as a satisfactory reply was not obtained, he wrote again, threatening retaliation, and “closing my correspondence with you, perhaps forever,” —a letter which Charles Lee thought “a very good one, but Gage certainly deserved a stronger one, such as it was before it was softened.” One cannot but wonder what part the old friendship played in this “softening.”

Relations with the Howes began badly by a letter from Lord Howe addressed “George Washington, Esq.,” which Washington declined to receive as not recognizing his official position. A second one to “George Washington, Esq. &c. &c. &c.” met with the same fate, and brought the British officer “to change my superscription.” A little after this brief war of forms, a letter from Washington to his wife was intercepted with others by the enemy, and General Howe enclosed it, “happy to return it without the least attempt being made to discover any part of the contents.” This courtesy the American commander presently was able to reciprocate by sending “General Washington’s compliments to General Howe,—does himself the pleasure to return to him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and, by the inscription on the collar, appears to belong to General Howe.” Even politeness had its objections, however, at moments, and Washington once had to write Sir William,—

“There is one passage of your letter, which I cannot forbear taking particular notice of. No expression of personal politeness to me can be acceptable, accompanied by reflections on the representatives of a free people, under whose authority I have the honor to act. The delicacy I have observed, in refraining from everything offensive in this way, entitles me to expect a similar treatment from you. I have not indulged myself in invective against the present rulers of Great Britain, in the course of our correspondence, nor will I even now avail myself of so fruitful a theme.”

Apparently when Sir Henry Clinton succeeded to the command of the British army the same old device to insult the General was again tried, for Dumas states that Washington “received a despatch from Sir Henry Clinton, addressed to ‘Mr. Washington.’ Taking it from the hands of the flag of truce, and seeing the direction, ‘This letter,’ said he, ‘is directed to a planter of the state of Virginia. I shall have it delivered to him after the end of the war; till that time it shall not be opened.’ A second despatch was addressed to his Excellency General Washington.” A better lesson in courtesy was contained in a letter from Washington to him, complaining of “wanton, unprecedented and inhuman murder,” which closed with the following: “I beg your Excellency to be persuaded, that it cannot be more disagreeable to you to be addressed in this language, than it is to me to offer it; but the subject requires frankness and decision.”

Quite as firm was one addressed to Cornwallis, which read,—

“It is with infinite regret, I am again compelled to remonstrate against that spirit of wanton cruelty, that has in several instances influenced the conduct of your soldiery. A recent exercise of it towards an unhappy officer of ours, Lieutenant Harris, convinces me, that my former representations on this subject have been unavailing. That Gentleman by the fortunes of war, on Saturday last was thrown into the hands of a party of your horse, and unnecessarily murdered with the most aggravated circumstances of barbarity. I wish not to wound your Lordship’s feelings, by commenting on this event; but I think it my duty to send his mangled body to your lines as an undeniable testimony of the fact, should it be doubted, and as the best appeal to your humanity for the justice of our complaint.”

A pleasanter intercourse came with the surrender of Yorktown, after which not merely were Cornwallis and his officers saved the mortification of surrendering their swords, but the chief among them were entertained at dinner by Washington. At this meal, so a contemporary account states, “Rochhambeau, being asked for a toast, gave ‘The United States’. Washington gave ‘The King of France’. Lord Cornwallis, simply ‘The King’; but Washington, putting that toast, added, ‘of England’, and facetiously, ‘confine him there, I’ll drink him a full bumper’, filling his glass till it ran over. Rochambeau, with great politeness, was still so French, that he would every now and then be touching on points that were improper, and a breach of real politeness. Washington often checked him, and showed in a more saturnine manner, the infinite esteem he had for his gallant prisoner, whose private qualities the Americans admired even in a foe, that had so often filled them with the most cruel alarms.” Many years later, when Cornwallis was governor-general of India, he sent a verbal message to his old foe, wishing “General Washington a long enjoyment of tranquility and happiness,” adding that for himself he “continued in troubled waters.”

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Turning from these public rather than personal foes, a very different type of enemies is encountered in those inimical to Washington in his own army. Chief of these was Horatio Gates, with whom Washington had become acquainted in the Braddock campaign, and with whom there was friendly intercourse from that time until the Revolution. In 1775, at Washington’s express solicitation, Gates was appointed adjutant- and brigadier-general, and in a letter thanking Washington for the favor he professed to have “the greatest respect for your character and the sincerest attachment to your person.” Nevertheless, he very early in the war suggested that a committee of Congress be sent to camp to keep watch on Washington, and as soon as he was in a separate command he began to curry favor with Congress and scheme against his commander. This was not unknown to Washington, who afterwards wrote, “I discovered very early in the war symptoms of coldness & constraint in General Gates’ behavior to me. These increased as he rose into greater consequence.”

When Burgoyne capitulated to Gates, he sent the news to Congress and not to Washington, and though he had no further need for troops the commander-in-chief had sent him, he endeavored to prevent their return at a moment when every man was needed in the main army. His attitude towards Washington was so notorious that his friends curried favor with him by letters criticising the commander, and when, by chance, the General learned of the contents of one of these letters, and news to that effect reached the ears of Gates, he practically charged Washington with having obtained his knowledge by dishonorable means; but Washington more than repaid the insult, in telling Gates how he had learned of the affair, by adding that he had “considered the information as coming from yourself, and given with a friendly view to forewarn and consequently forearm me, against a secret enemy … but in this, as in other matters of late, I have found myself mistaken.” Driven to the wall, Gates wrote to Washington a denial that the letter contained the passage in question, which was an absolute lie, and this untruth typifies his character. Without expressing either belief or disbelief in this denial, Washington replied,—

“I am as averse to controversy as any man, and had I not been forced into it, you never would have had occasion to impute to me, even the shadow of disposition towards it. Your repeatedly and solemnly disclaiming any offensive views in those matters, which have been the subject of our past correspondence makes me willing to close with the desire, you express, of burying them hereafter in silence, and, as far as future events will permit, oblivion. My temper leads me to peace and harmony with all men; and it is peculiarly my wish to avoid any personal feuds or dissentions with those who are embarked in the same great national interest with, myself; as every difference of this kind must in its consequence be very injurious.”

After this affair subsided, Washington said,—

“I made a point of treating Gen. Gates with all the attention and cordiality in my power, as well from a sincere desire of harmony, as from an unwillingness to give any cause of triumph among ourselves. I can appeal to the world, and to the whole army, whether I have not cautiously avoided offending Gen. Gates in any way. I am sorry his conduct to me has not been equally generous, and that he is continually giving me fresh proofs of malevolence and opposition. It will not be doing him injustice to say, that, besides the little underhand intrigues which he is frequently practising, there has hardly been any great military question, in which his advice has been asked, that it has not been given in an equivocal and designing manner, apparently calculated to afford him an opportunity of censuring me, on the failure of whatever measures might be adopted.”

After the defeat of Gates at Camden, the Prince de Broglie wrote that “I saw General Gates at the house of General Washington, with whom he had had a misunderstanding…. This interview excited the curiosity of both armies. It passed with a most perfect propriety on the part of both gentlemen. Mr. Washington treated Mr. Gates with a politeness which had a frank and easy air, while the other responded with that shade of respect which was proper towards his general.” And how fair-minded Washington was is shown by his refusal to interfere in an army matter, because, “considering the delicate situation in which I stand with respect to General Gates, I feel an unwillingness to give any opinion (even in a confidential way) in a matter in which he is concerned, lest my sentiments (being known) should have unfavorable interpretations ascribed to them by illiberal Minds.” Yet the friendship was never restored, and when the two after the war were associated in the Potomac company, Washington’s sense of the old treachery was still so keen that he alluded to the appointment of “my bosom friend Genl G-tes, who being at Richmond, contrived to edge himself in to the commission.”

Thomas Conway was Washington’s traducer to Gates. He was an Irish-French soldier of fortune who unfortunately had been made a brigadier-general in the Continental army. Having made friends of the New England delegates in Congress, it was then proposed by them to advance him to the rank of major-general, which Washington opposed, on the grounds that “his merit and importance exist more in his imagination than in reality.” For the moment this was sufficient to prevent Conway’s promotion, and even if he had not before been opposed to his commander, he now became his bitter enemy. To more than Gates he said or wrote, “A great & good God has decreed that America shall be free, or Washington and weak counsellors would have ruined her long ago.” Upon word of this reaching Washington, so Laurens tells, “The genl immediately copied the contents of the paper, introducing them with ‘sir,’ and concluding with, ‘I am your humble servt,’ and sent this copy in the form of a letter to Genl Conway. This drew an answer, in which he first attempts to deny the fact, and then in a most shameless manner, to explain away the matter. The perplexity of his style, and evident insincerity of his compliments, betray his weak sentiments, and expose his guilt.”

Yet, though detected, Conway complained to the Continental Congress that Washington was not treating him properly, and in reply to an inquiry from a member the General acknowledged that,—

“If General Conway means by cool receptions mentioned in the last paragraph of his letter of the 31st ultimo, that I did not receive him in the language of a warm and cordial friend, I readily confess the charge. I did not, nor shall I ever, till I am capable of the arts of dissimulation. These I despise, and my feelings will not permit me to make professions of friendship to the man I deem my enemy, and whose system of conduct forbids it. At the same time, truth authorizes me to say, that he was received and treated with proper respect to his official character, and that he has had no cause to justify the assertion, that he could not expect any support for fulfilling the duties of his appointment.”

In spite of Washington’s opposition, Conway’s friends were numerous enough in the Congress finally to elect him major-general, at the same time appointing him inspector-general. Elated with this evident partiality of the majority of that body for him, he went even further, and Laurens states that he was guilty of a “base insult” to Washington, which “affects the General very sensibly,” and he continues,—

“It is such an affront as Conway would never have dared to offer, if the General’s situation had not assured him of the impossibility of its being revenged in a private way. The Genl, therefore, has determined to return him no answer at all, but to lay the whole matter before Congress; they will determine whether Genl W. is to be sacrificed to Genl. C., for the former can never consent to be concern’d in any transaction with the latter, from whom he has received such unpardonable insults.”

Fortunately, Conway did not limit his “insulting letters” to the commander-in-chief alone, and presently he sent one to Congress threatening to resign, which so angered that body that they took him at his word. Moreover, his open abuse of Washington led an old-time friend of the latter to challenge him, and to lodge a ball, with almost poetic justice, in Conway’s mouth. Thinking himself on the point of death, he wrote a farewell line to Washington “expressing my sincere grief for having done, written or said anything disagreeable to your Excellency…. You are in my eyes a great and good man.” And with this recantation he disappeared from the army. A third officer in this “cabal” was Thomas Mifflin. He was the first man appointed on Washington’s staff at the beginning of the war, but did not long remain in that position, being promoted by Washington to be quartermaster-general. In this position the rumor reached the General that Mifflin was “concerned in trade,” and Washington took “occasion to hint” the suspicion to him, only to get a denial from the officer. Whether this inquiry was a cause for ill-feeling or not, Mifflin was one of the most outspoken against the commander-in-chief as his opponents gathered force, and Washington informed Henry that he “bore the second part in the cabal.” Mifflin resigned from the army and took a position on the board of war, but when the influence of that body broke down with the collapse of the Cabal, he applied for a reappointment,—a course described by Washington in plain English as follows:

“I was not a little surprised to find a certain gentleman, who, some time ago (when a cloud of darkness hung heavy over us, and our affairs looked gloomy,) was desirous of resigning, now stepping forward in the line of the army. But if he can reconcile such conduct to his own, feelings, as an officer and a man of honor, and Congress hath no objections to his leaving his seat in another department, I have nothing personally to oppose it. Yet I must think, that gentleman’s stepping in and out, as the sun happens to beam forth or obscure, is not quite the thing, nor quite just, with respect to those officers, who take ye bitter with the sweet.”

Not long after Greene wrote that “I learn that General Mifflin has publicly declared that he looked upon his Excellency as the best friend he ever had in his life, so that is a plain sign that the Junto has given up all ideas of supplanting our excellent general from a confidence of the impracticability of such an attempt.”

A very minor but most malignant enemy was Dr. Benjamin Rush. In 1774 Washington dined with him in Philadelphia, which implied friendship. Very early in the war, however, an attempt was made to remove the director-general of hospitals, in which, so John Armstrong claimed, “Morgan was the ostensible—Rush the real prosecutor of Shippen—the former acting from revenge,… the latter from a desire to obtain the directorship. In approving the sentence of the court, Washington stigmatized the prosecution as one originating in bad motives, which made Rush his enemy and defamer as long as he lived.” Certain it is he wrote savage letters of criticism about his commander-in-chief of which the following extract is a sample:

“I have heard several officers who have served under General Gates compare his army to a well regulated family. The same gentlemen have compared Gen’l Washington’s imitation of an army to an unformed mob. Look at the characters of both! The one on the pinnacle of military glory—exulting in the success of schemes planned with wisdom, & executed with vigor and bravery—and above all see a country saved by his exertions. See the other outgeneral’d and twice heated—obliged to witness the march of a body of men only half their number thro’ 140 Miles of a thick settled country— forced to give up a city the capitol of a state & after all outwitted by the same army in a retreat.”

Had Rush written only this, there would be no grounds for questioning his methods; but, not content with spreading his opinions among his friends, he took to anonymous letter-writing, and sent an unsigned letter abusing Washington to the governor of Virginia (and probably to others), with the request that the letter should be burned. Instead of this, Henry sent it to Washington, who recognized at once the handwriting, and wrote to Henry that Rush “has been elaborate and studied in his professions of regard to me, and long since the letter to you.” An amusing sequel to this incident is to be found in Rush moving heaven and earth on the publication of Marshall’s “Life of Washington” to prevent his name from appearing as one of the commander-in-chief’s enemies.

After the collapse of the attempt Washington wrote to a friend, “I thank you sincerely for the part you acted at York respecting C—-y, and believe with you that matters have and will turn out very different to what that party expected. G—-s has involved himself in his letters to me in the most absurd contradictions. M—- has brought himself into a scrape that he does not know how to get out of with a gentleman of this State, and C—-, as you know is sent upon an expedition which all the world knew, and the event has proved, was not practicable. In a word, I have a good deal of reason to believe that the machination of this junta will recoil upon their own heads, and be a means of bringing some matters to light which, by getting me out of the way, some of them thought to conceal.”

Undoubtedly the most serious army antagonist was General Charles Lee, and, but for what seem almost fatalistic chances, he would have been a dangerous rival. He was second in command very early in the war, and at this time he asserted that “no man loves, respects and reverences another more than I do General Washington. I esteem his virtues, private and public. I know him to be a man of sense, courage and firmness.” But four months later he was lamenting Washington’s “fatal indecision,” and by inference was calling him “a blunderer.” In another month he wrote, “entre nous a certain great man is most damnably deficient.” At this point, fortunately, Lee was captured by the British, so that his influence for the time being was destroyed. While a prisoner he drew up a plan for the English general, showing how America could be conquered.

When he had been exchanged, and led the American advance at the battle of Monmouth, he seems to have endeavored to aid the British in another way, for after barely engaging, he ordered a retreat, which quickly developed into a rout, and would have ended in a serious defeat had not, as Laurens wrote, “fortunately for the honor of the army, and the welfare of America, Genl Washington met the troops retreating in disorder, and without any plan to make an opposition. He ordered some pieces of artillery to be brought up to defend the pass, and some troops to form and defend the pieces. The artillery was too distant to be brought up readily, so that there was but little opposition given here. A few shot though, and a little skirmishing in the wood checked the enemy’s career. The Genl expressed his astonishment at this unaccountable retreat Mr. Lee indecently replied that the attack was contrary to his advice and opinion in council.”

In a fit of temper Lee wrote Washington two imprudent letters, expressed “in terms [so] highly improper” that he was ordered under arrest and tried by a court-martial, which promptly found him guilty of disobedience and disrespect, as well as of making a “disorderly and unnecessary retreat.” To this Lee retorted, “I aver that his Excellencies letter was from beginning to the end a most abominable lie—I aver that my conduct will stand the strictest scrutiny of every military judge—I aver that my Court Martial was a Court of Inquisition—that there was not a single member with a military idea—at least if I may pronounce from the different questions they put to the evidences.”

In this connection it is of interest to note a letter from Washington’s friend Mason, which said, “You express a fear that General Lee will challenge our friend. Indulge in no such apprehensions, for he too well knows the sentiments of General Washington on the subject of duelling. From his earliest manhood I have heard him express his contempt of the man who sends and the man who accepts a challenge, for he regards such acts as no proof of moral courage; and the practice he abhors as a relic of old barbarisms, repugnant alike to sound morality and Christian enlightenment.”

A little later, still smarting from this court-martial, Lee wrote to a newspaper a savage attack on his late commander, apparently in the belief, as he said in a private letter, that “there is … a visible revolution … in the minds of men, I mean that our Great Gargantua, or Lama Babak (for I know not which Title is the properest) begins to be no longer consider’d as an infallible Divinity—and that those who have been sacrificed or near sacrific’d on his altar, begin to be esteem’d as wantonly and foolishly offer’d up.” Lee very quickly found his mistake, for the editor of the paper which contained his attack was compelled by a committee of citizens to publish an acknowledgment that in printing it “I have transgressed against truth, justice and my duty as a good citizen,” and, as Washington wrote to a friend, “the author of the Queries, ‘Political and Military,’ has had no cause to exult in the favorable reception of them by the public.” With Lee’s disappearance the last army rival dropped from the ranks, and from that time there was no question as to who should command the armies of America. Long after, a would-be editor of Lee’s papers wrote to Washington to ask if he had any wishes in regard to the publication, and was told in the reply that,—

“I never had a difference with that gentleman, but on public ground, and my conduct towards him upon this occasion was such only, as I conceived myself indispensably bound to adopt in discharge of the public trust reposed in me. If this produced in him unfavorable sentiments of me, I yet can never consider the conduct I pursued, with respect to him, either wrong or improper, however I may regret that it may have been differently viewed by him and that it excited his censure and animadversions. Should there appear in General Lee’s writings any thing injurious or unfriendly to me, the impartial and dispassionate world must decide how far I deserved it from the general tenor of my conduct.”

These attempts to undermine Washington owed their real vitality to the Continental Congress, and it is safe to say that but for Washington’s political enemies no army rival would have ventured to push forward. In what the opposition in that body consisted, and to what length it went, are discussed elsewhere, but a glance at the reasons of hostility to him is proper here.

John Adams declared himself “sick of the Fabian systems,” and in writing of the thanksgiving for the Saratoga Convention, he said that “one cause of it ought to be that the glory of turning the tide of arms is not immediately due to the commander-in-chief…. If it had, idolatry and adulation would have been unbounded.” James Lovell asserted that “Our affairs are Fabiused into a very disagreeable posture,” and wrote that “depend upon it for every ten soldiers placed under the command of our Fabius, five recruits will be wanted annually during the war.” William Williams agreed with Jonathan Trumbull that the time had come when “a much exalted character should make way for a general” and suggested if this was not done “voluntarily,” those to whom the public looked should “see to it.” Abraham Clark thought “we may talk of the Enemy’s Cruelty as we will, but we have no greater Cruelty to complain of than the Management of our Army.” Jonathan D. Sargent asserted that “we want a general—thousands of Lives & Millions of Property are yearly sacrificed to the Insufficiency of our Commander-in-Chief—Two Battles he has lost for us by two such Blunders as might have disgraced a Soldier of three months standing, and yet we are so attached to this Man that I fear we shall rather sink with him than throw him off our Shoulders. And sink we must under his Management. Such Feebleness, & Want of Authority, such Confusion & Want of Discipline, such Waste, such destruction would exhaust the Wealth of both the Indies & annihilate the armies of all Europe and Asia.” Richard Henry Lee agreed with Mifflin that Gates was needed to “procure the indispensable changes in our Army.” Other Congressmen who were inimical to Washington, either by openly expressed opinion or by vote, were Elbridge Gerry, Samuel Adams, William Ellery, Eliphalet Dyer, Roger Sherman, Samuel Chase, and F.L. Lee. Later, when Washington’s position was more secure, Gerry and R.H. Lee wrote to him affirming their friendship, and to both the General replied without a suggestion of ill-feeling, nor does he seem, in later life, to have felt a trace of personal animosity towards any one of the men who had been in opposition to him in Congress. Of this enmity in the army and Congress Washington wrote,—

“It is easy to bear the first, and even the devices of private enemies whose ill will only arises from their common hatred to the cause we are engaged in, are to me tolerable; yet, I confess, I cannot help feeling the most painful sensations, whenever I have reason to believe I am the object of persecution to men, who are embarked in the same general interest, and whose friendship my heart does not reproach me with, ever having done any thing to forfeit. But with many, it is a sufficient cause to hate and wish the ruin of a man, because he has been happy enough, to be the object of his country’s favor.”

The political course of Washington while President produced the alienation of the two Virginians whom he most closely associated with himself in the early part of his administration. With Madison the break does not seem to have come from any positive ill-feeling, but was rather an abandonment of intercourse as the differences of opinion became more pronounced. The disagreement with Jefferson was more acute, though probably never forced to an open rupture. To his political friends Jefferson in 1796 wrote that the measures pursued by the administration were carried out “under the sanction of a name which has done too much good not to be sufficient to cover harm also,” and that he hoped the President’s “honesty and his political errors may not furnish a second occasion to exclaim, ‘curse on his virtues, they’ve undone his country.’” Henry Lee warned Washington of the undercurrent of criticism, and when Jefferson heard indirectly of this he wrote his former chief that “I learn that [Lee] has thought it worth his while to try to sow tares between you and me, by representing me as still engaged in the bustle of politics & in turbulence & intrigue against the government. I never believed for a moment that this could make any impression on you, or that your knowledge of me would not overweigh the slander of an intriguer dirtily employed in sifting the conversations of my table.” To this Washington replied,—

“As you have mentioned the subject yourself, it would not be frank, candid or friendly to conceal, that your conduct has been represented as derogating from that opinion I had conceived you entertained of me; that, to your particular friends and connexions you have described, and they have denounced me as a person under a dangerous influence; and that, if I would listen more to some other opinions, all would be well. My answer invariably has been, that I had never discovered any thing in the conduct of Mr. Jefferson to raise suspicions in my mind of his insincerity; that, if he would retrace my public conduct while he was in the administration, abundant proofs would occur to him, that truth and right decisions were the sole objects of my pursuit; that there was as many instances within his own knowledge of my having decided against as in favor of the opinions of the person evidently alluded to; and, I was no believer in the infallibility of the politics or measures of any man living. In short that I was no party man myself and the first wish of my heart was, if parties did exist, to reconcile them.”

As proof upon proof of Jefferson’s secret enmity accumulated, Washington ceased to trust his disclaimers, and finally wrote to one of his informants, “Nothing short of the evidence you have adduced, corroborative of intimations which I had received long before through another channel, could have shaken my belief in the sincerity of a friendship, which I had conceived as possessed for me by the person to whom you allude. But attempts to injure those, who are supposed to stand well in the estimation of the people, and are stumbling blocks in the way, by misrepresenting their political tenets, thereby to destroy all confidence in them, are among the means by which the government is to be assailed, and the constitution destroyed.”

Once convinced, all relations with Jefferson were terminated. It is interesting in this connection to note something repeated by Madison, to the effect that “General Lafayette related to me the following anecdote, which I shall repeat as nearly as I can in his own words. ‘When I last saw Mr. Jefferson,’ he observed, ‘we conversed a good deal about General Washington, and Mr. Jefferson expressed high admiration of his character. He remarked particularly that he and Hamilton often disagreed when they were members of the Cabinet, and that General Washington would sometimes favor the opinion of one and sometimes the other, with an apparent strict impartiality. And Mr. Jefferson added that, so sound was Washington’s judgment, that he was commonly convinced afterwards of the accuracy of his decision, whether it accorded with the opinion he had himself first advanced or not.’”

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A third Virginian who was almost as closely associated was Edmund Randolph. There had been a friendship with his father, until he turned Tory and went to England, when, according to Washington’s belief, he wrote the “forged letters” which gave Washington so much trouble. For the sake of the old friendship, however, he gave the son a position on his staff, and from that time was his friend and correspondent. In the first administration he was made Attorney-General, and when Jefferson retired from office he became Secretary of State. In this position he was charged with political dishonesty. Washington gave him a chance to explain, but instead he resigned from office and published what he called “a vindication,” in which he charged the President with “prejudging,” “concealment,” and “want of generosity.” Continuing, he said, “never … could I have believed that in addressing you … I should use any other language than that of a friend. From my early period of life, I was taught to esteem you—as I advanced in years, I was habituated to revere you:—you strengthened my prepossessions by marks of attention.” And in another place he acknowledged the weakness of his attack by saying, “still however, those very objections, the very reputation which you have acquired, will cause it to be asked, why you should be suspected of acting towards me, in any other manner, than deliberately, justly and even kindly?”

In the preparation of this pamphlet Randolph wrote the President a letter which the latter asserted was “full of innuendoes,” and one statement in the pamphlet he denounced as being “as impudent and insolent an assertion as it is false.” And his irritation at this treatment from one he had always befriended gave rise to an incident, narrated by James Ross, at a breakfast at the President’s, when “after a little while the Secretary of War came in, and said to Washington, ‘Have you seen Mr. Randolph’s pamphlet?’ ‘I have,’ said Washington, ‘and, by the eternal God, he is the damnedest liar on the face of the earth!’ and as he spoke he brought his fist down upon the table with all his strength, and with a violence which made the cups and plates start from their places.” Fortunately, the attack was ineffective; indeed, Hamilton wrote that “I consider it as amounting to a confession of guilt; and I am persuaded this will be the universal opinion. His attempts against you are viewed by all whom I have seen, as base. They will certainly fail of their aim, and will do good rather than harm, to the public cause and to yourself. It appears to me that, by you, no notice can be, or ought to be, taken of the publication. It contains its own antidote.”

Not content with this double giving up of what to any man of honor was confidential, Randolph, a little later, rested under Washington’s suspicions of a third time breaking the seal of official secrecy by sending a Cabinet paper to the newspapers for no other purpose than to stir up feeling against Washington. But after his former patron’s death regret came, and Randolph wrote to Bushrod Washington, “If I could now present myself before your venerated uncle it would be my pride to confess my contrition that I suffered my irritation, be the cause what it might, to use some of those expressions respecting him which, at this moment … I wish to recall as being inconsistent with my subsequent convictions.”

Another type of enemy, more or less the result of this differing with Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Randolph, was sundry editors and writers who gathered under their patronage and received aids of money or of secret information. One who prospered for a time by abusing Washington was Philip Freneau. He was a college friend of Madison’s, and was induced to undertake the task by his and Jefferson’s urging, though the latter denied this later. As aid to the undertaking, Jefferson, then Secretary of State, gave Freneau an office, and thus produced the curious condition of a clerk in the government writing and printing savage attacks on the President. Washington was much irritated at the abuse, and Jefferson in his “Anas” said that he “was evidently sore & warm and I took his intention to be that I should interpose in some way with Freneau, perhaps withdraw his appointment of translating clerk to my office. But I will not do it.” According to the French minister, some of the worst of these articles were written by Jefferson himself, and Freneau is reported to have said, late in life, that many of them were written by the Secretary of State.

Far more indecent was the paper conducted by Benjamin Franklin Bache, who, early in the Presidency, applied for a place in the government, which for some reason not now known was refused. According to Cobbett, who hated him, “this … scoundrel … spent several years in hunting offices under the Federal Government, and being constantly rejected, he at last became its most bitter foe. Hence his abuse of General Washington, whom at the time he was soliciting a place he panegyrized up to the third heaven.” Certain it is that under his editorship the General Advertiser and Aurora took the lead in all criticisms of Washington, and not content with these opportunities for daily and weekly abuse, Bache (though the fact that they were forgeries was notorious) reprinted the “spurious letters which issued from a certain press in New York during the war, with a view to destroy the confidence which the army and community might have had in my political principles,—and which have lately been republished with greater avidity and perseverance than ever, by Mr. Bache to answer the same nefarious purpose with the latter,” and Washington added that “immense pains has been taken by this said Mr. Bache, who is no more than the agent or tool of those who are endeavoring to destroy the confidence of the people, in the officers of Government (chosen by themselves) to disseminate these counterfeit letters.” In addition Bache wrote a pamphlet, with the avowal that “the design of these remarks is to prove the want of claim in Mr. Washington either to the gratitude or confidence of his country…. Our chief object … is to destroy undue impressions in favor of Mr. Washington.” Accordingly it charged that Washington was “treacherous,” “mischievous,” “inefficient;” dwelt upon his “farce of disinterestedness,” his “stately journeyings through the American continent in search of personal incense,” his “ostentatious professions of piety,” his “pusillanimous neglect,” his “little passions,” his “ingratitude,” his “want of merit,” his “insignificance,” and his “spurious fame.”

The successor of Bache as editor of these two journals, William Duane, came to the office with an equal hatred of Washington, having already written a savage pamphlet against him. In this the President was charged with “treacherous mazes of passion,” and with having “discharged the loathings of a sick mind.” Furthermore it asserted “that had you obtained promotion … after Braddock’s defeat, your sword would have been drawn against your country,” that Washington “retained the barbarous usages of the feudal system and kept men in Livery,” and that “posterity will in vain search for the monuments of wisdom in your administration;” the purpose of the pamphlet, by the author’s own statement, being “to expose the Personal Idolatry into which we have been heedlessly running,” and to show the people the “fallibility of the most favored of men.”

A fourth in this quartet of editors was the notorious James Thomson Callender, whose publications were numerous, as were also his impeachments against Washington. By his own account, this writer maintained, “Mr. Washington has been twice a traitor,” has “authorized the robbery and ruin of the remnants of his own army,” has “broke the constitution,” and Callender fumes over “the vileness of the adulation which has been paid” to him, claiming that “the extravagant popularity possessed by this citizen reflects the utmost ridicule on the discernment of America.”

The bitterest attack, however, was penned by Thomas Paine. For many years there was good feeling between the two, and in 1782, when Paine was in financial distress, Washington used his influence to secure him a position “out of friendship for me,” as Paine acknowledged. Furthermore, Washington tried to get the Virginia Legislature to pension Paine or give him a grant of land, an endeavor for which the latter was “exceedingly obliged.” When Paine published his “Rights of Man” he dedicated it to Washington, with an inscription dwelling on his “exemplary virtue” and his “benevolence;” while in the body of the work he asserted that no monarch of Europe had a character to compare with Washington’s, which was such as to “put all those men called kings to shame.” Shortly after this, however, Washington refused to appoint him Postmaster-General; and still later, when Paine had involved himself with the French, the President, after consideration, decided that governmental interference was not proper. Enraged by these two acts, Paine published a pamphlet in which he charged Washington with “encouraging and swallowing the greatest adulation,” with being “the patron of fraud,” with a “mean and servile submission to the insults of one nation, treachery and ingratitude to another,” with “falsehood,” “ingratitude,” and “pusillanimity;” and finally, after alleging that the General had not “served America with more disinterestedness or greater zeal, than myself, and I know not if with better effect,” Paine closed his attack by the assertion, “and as to you, sir, treacherous in private friendship, and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide, whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any?

Washington never, in any situation, took public notice of these attacks, and he wrote of a possible one, “I am gliding down the stream of life, and wish, as is natural, that my remaining days may be undisturbed and tranquil; and, conscious of my integrity, I would willingly hope, that nothing would occur tending to give me anxiety; but should anything present itself in this or any other publication, I shall never undertake the painful task of recrimination, nor do I know that I should even enter upon my justification.” To a friend he said, “my temper leads me to peace and harmony with all men; and it is peculiarly my wish to avoid any feuds or dissentions with those who are embarked in the same great national interest with myself; as every difference of this kind must in its consequence be very injurious.”


“My inclinations,” wrote Washington at twenty-three, “are strongly bent to arms,” and the tendency was a natural one, coming not merely from his Indian-fighting great-grandfather, but from his elder brother Lawrence, who had held a king’s commission in the Carthagena expedition, and was one of the few officers who gained repute in that ill-fated attempt. At Mount Vernon George must have heard much of fighting as a lad, and when the ill health of Lawrence compelled resignation of command of the district militia, the younger brother succeeded to the adjutancy. This quickly led to the command of the first Virginia regiment when the French and Indian War was brewing. Twice Washington resigned in disgust during the course of the war, but each time his natural bent, or “glowing zeal,” as he phrased it, drew him back into the service. The moment the news of Lexington reached Virginia he took the lead in organizing an armed force, and in the Virginia Convention of 1775, according to Lynch, he “made the most eloquent speech … that ever was made. Says he, ‘I will raise one thousand men, enlist them at my own expense, and march myself at their head for the relief of Boston.’” At fifty-three, in speaking of war, Washington said, “my first wish is to see this plague to mankind banished from off the earth;” but during his whole life, when there was fighting to be done, he was among those who volunteered for the service.

The personal courage of the man was very great. Jefferson, indeed, said “he was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern.” Before he had ever been in action, he noted of a certain position that it was “a charming field for an encounter,” and his first engagement he described as follows: “I fortunately escaped without any wound, for the right wing, where I stood, was exposed to and received all the enemy’s fire, and it was the part where the man was killed, and the rest wounded. I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.” In his second battle, though he knew that he was “to be attacked and by unequal numbers,” he promised beforehand to “withstand” them “if there are five to one,” adding, “I doubt not, but if you hear I am beaten, but you will, at the same [time,] hear that we have done our duty, in fighting as long [as] there was a possibility of hope,” and in this he was as good as his word. When sickness detained him in the Braddock march, he halted only on condition that he should receive timely notice of when the fighting was to begin, and in that engagement he exposed himself so that “I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, altho’ death was levelling my companions on every side of me!” Not content with such an experience, in the second march on Fort Duquesne he “prayed” the interest of a friend to have his regiment part of the “light troops” that were to push forward in advance of the main army.

The same carelessness of personal danger was shown all through the Revolution. At the battle of Brooklyn, on New York Island, at Trenton, Germantown, and Monmouth, he exposed himself to the enemy’s fire, and at the siege of Yorktown an eyewitness relates that “during the assault, the British kept up an incessant firing of cannon and musketry from their whole line. His Excellency General Washington, Generals Lincoln and Knox with their aids, having dismounted, were standing in an exposed situation waiting the result. Colonel Cobb, one of General Washington’s aids, solicitous for his safety, said to his Excellency, ‘Sir, you are too much exposed here, had you not better step back a little?’ ‘Colonel Cobb,’ replied his Excellency, ‘if you are afraid, you have liberty to step back.’” It is no cause for wonder that an officer wrote, “our army love their General very much, but they have one thing against him, which is the little care he takes of himself in any action. His personal bravery, and the desire he has of animating his troops by example, make him fearless of danger. This occasions us much uneasiness.”

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This fearlessness was equally shown by his hatred and, indeed, non-comprehension of cowardice. In his first battle, upon the French surrendering, he wrote to the governor, “if the whole Detach’t of the French behave with no more Resolution than this chosen Party did, I flatter myself we shall have no g’t trouble in driving them to the d—-.” At Braddock’s defeat, though the regiment he had commanded “behaved like men and died like soldiers,” he could hardly find words to express his contempt for the conduct of the British “cowardly regulars,” writing of their “dastardly behavior” when they “broke and ran as sheep before hounds,” and raging over being “most scandalously” and “shamefully beaten.” When the British first landed on New York Island, and two New England brigades ran away from “a small party of the enemy,” numbering about fifty, without firing a shot, he completely lost his self-control at their “dastardly behavior,” and riding in among them, it is related, he laid his cane over the officers’ backs, “damned them for cowardly rascals,” and, drawing his sword, struck the soldiers right and left with the flat of it, while snapping his pistols at them. Greene states that the fugitives “left his Excellency on the ground within eighty yards of the enemy, so vexed at the infamous conduct of the troops, that he sought death rather than life,” and Gordon adds that the General was only saved from his “hazardous position” by his aides, who “caught the bridle of his horse and gave him a different direction.” At Monmouth an aide stated that when he met a man running away he was “exasperated … and threatened the man … he would have him whipped,” and General Scott says that on finding Lee retreating, “he swore like an angel from heaven.” Wherever in his letters he alludes to cowardice it is nearly always coupled with the adjectives “infamous,” “scandalous,” or others equally indicative of loss of temper.

There can be no doubt that Washington had a high temper. Hamilton’s allusion to his not being remarkable for “good temper” has already been quoted, as has also Stuart’s remark that “all his features were indicative of the strongest and most ungovernable passions, and had he been born in the forests, he would have been the fiercest man among the savage tribes.” Again Stuart is quoted by his daughter as follows:

“While talking one day with General Lee, my father happened to remark that Washington had a tremendous temper, but held it under wonderful control. General Lee breakfasted with the President and Mrs. Washington a few days afterwards.

“‘I saw your portrait the other day,’ said the General, ‘but Stuart says you have a tremendous temper.’

“‘Upon my word,’ said Mrs. Washington, coloring, ‘Mr. Stuart takes a great deal upon himself to make such a remark.’

“‘But stay, my dear lady,’ said General Lee, ‘he added that the president had it under wonderful control.’

“With something like a smile, General Washington remarked, ‘He is right.’”

Lear, too, mentions an outburst of temper when he heard of the defeat of St. Clair, and elsewhere records that in reading politics aloud to Washington “he appeared much affected, and spoke with some degree of asperity on the subject, which I endeavored to moderate, as I always did on such occasions.” How he swore at Randolph and at Freneau is mentioned elsewhere. Jefferson is evidence that “his temper was naturally irritable and high-toned, but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it. If however it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath.”

Strikingly at variance with these personal qualities of courage and hot blood is the “Fabian” policy for which he is so generally credited, and a study of his military career goes far to dispel the conception that Washington was the cautious commander that he is usually pictured.

In the first campaign, though near a vastly superior French force, Washington precipitated the conflict by attacking and capturing an advance party, though the delay of a few days would have brought him large reinforcements. As a consequence he was very quickly surrounded, and after a day’s fighting was compelled to surrender. In what light his conduct was viewed at the time is shown in two letters, Dr. William Smith writing, “the British cause,… has received a fatal Blow by the entire defeat of Washington, whom I cannot but accuse of Foolhardiness to have ventured so near a vigilant enemy without being certain of their numbers, or waiting for Junction of some hundreds of our best Forces, who are within a few Days’ March of him,” and Ann Willing echoed this by saying, “the melancholy news has just arrived of the loss of sixty men belonging to Col. Washington’s Company, who were killed on the spot, and of the Colonel and Half-King being taken prisoners, all owing to the obstinacy of Washington, who would not wait for the arrival of reinforcements.”

Hardly less venturesome was he in the Braddock campaign, for “the General (before they met in council,) asked my opinion concerning the expedition. I urged it, in the warmest terms I was able, to push forward, if we even did it with a small but chosen band, with such artillery and light stores as were absolutely necessary; leaving the heavy artillery, baggage, &c. with the rear division of the army, to follow by slow and easy marches, which they might do safely, while we were advanced in front.” How far the defeat of that force was due to the division thus urged it is not possible to say, but it undoubtedly made the French bolder and the English more subject to panic.

The same spirit was manifested in the Revolution. During the siege of Boston he wrote to Reed, “I proposed [an assault] in council; but behold, though we had been waiting all the year for this favorable event the enterprise was thought too dangerous. Perhaps it was; perhaps the irksomeness of my situation led me to undertake more than could be warranted by prudence. I did not think so, and I am sure yet, that the enterprise, if it had been undertaken with resolution, must have succeeded.” He added that “the enclosed council of war:… being almost unanimous, I must suppose it to be right; although, from a thorough conviction of the necessity of attempting something against the ministerial troops before a reinforcement should arrive, and while we were favored with the ice, I was not only ready but willing, and desirous of making the assault,” and a little later he said that had he but foreseen certain contingencies “all the generals upon earth should not have convinced me of the propriety of delaying an attack upon Boston.”

In the defence of New York there was no chance to attack, but even when our lines at Brooklyn had been broken and the best brigades in the army captured, Washington hurried troops across the river, and intended to contest the ground, ordering a retreat only when it was voted in the affirmative by a council of war. At Harlem plains he was the attacking party.

How with a handful of troops he turned the tide of defeat by attacking at Trenton and Princeton is too well known to need recital. At Germantown, too, though having but a few days before suffered defeat, he attacked and well-nigh won a brilliant victory, because the British officers did not dream that his vanquished army could possibly take the initiative. When the foe settled down into winter quarters in Philadelphia Laurens wrote, “our Commander-in-chief wishing ardently to gratify the public expectation by making an attack upon the enemy … went yesterday to view the works.” On submitting the project to a council, however, they stood eleven to four against the attempt.

The most marked instance of Washington’s un-Fabian preferences, and proof of the old saying that “councils of war never fight,” is furnished in the occurrences connected with the battle of Monmouth. When the British began their retreat across New Jersey, according to Hamilton “the General unluckily called a council of war, the result of which would have done honor to the most honorable society of mid-wives and to them only. The purport was, that we should keep at a comfortable distance from the enemy, and keep up a vain parade of annoying them by detachment … The General, on mature reconsideration of what had been resolved on, determined to pursue a different line of conduct at all hazards.” Concerning this decision Pickering wrote,—

“His great caution in respect to the enemy, acquired him the name of the American Fabius. From this governing policy he is said to have departed, when” at Monmouth he “indulged the most anxious desire to close with his antagonist in general action. Opposed to his wishes was the advice of his general officers. To this he for a time yielded; but as soon as he discovered that the enemy had reached Monmouth Court House, not more than twelve miles from the heights of Middletown, he determined that he should not escape without a blow.”

Pickering considered this a “departure” from Washington’s “usual practice and policy,” and cites Wadsworth, who said, in reference to the battle of Monmouth, that the General appeared, on that occasion, “to act from the impulses of his own mind.”

Thrice during the next three years plans for an attack on the enemy’s lines at New York were matured, one of which had to be abandoned because the British had timely notice of it by the treachery of an American general, a second because the other generals disapproved the attempt, and, on the authority of Humphreys, “the accidental intervention of some vessels prevented [another] attempt, which was more than once resumed afterwards. Notwithstanding this favorite project was not ultimately effected, it was evidently not less bold in conception or feasible in accomplishment, than that attempted so successfully at Trenton, or than that which was brought to so glorious an issue in the successful siege of Yorktown.”

As this résumé indicates, the most noticeable trait of Washington’s military career was a tendency to surrender his own opinions and wishes to those over whom he had been placed, and this resulted in a general agreement not merely that he was disposed to avoid action, but that he lacked decision. Thus his own aide, Reed, in obvious contrast to Washington, praised Lee because “you have decision, a quality often wanted in minds otherwise valuable,” continuing, “Oh! General, an indecisive mind is one of the greatest misfortunes that can befall an army; how often have I lamented it this campaign,” and Lee in reply alluded to “that fatal indecision of mind.” Pickering relates meeting General Greene and saying to him, “‘I had once conceived an exalted opinion of General Washington’s military talents; but since I have been with the army, I have seen nothing to increase that opinion.’ Greene answered, ‘Why, the General does want decision: for my part, I decide in a moment.’ I used the word ‘increase,’ though I meant ‘support,’ but did not dare speak it.” Wayne exclaimed “if our worthy general will but follow his own good judgment without listening too much to some counsel!” Edward Thornton, probably repeating the prevailing public estimate of the time rather than his own conclusion, said, “a certain degree of indecision, however, a want of vigor and energy, may be observed in some of his actions, and are indeed the obvious result of too refined caution.”

Undoubtedly this leaning on others and the want of decision were not merely due to a constitutional mistrust of his own ability, but also in a measure to real lack of knowledge. The French and Indian War, being almost wholly “bush-fighting,” was not of a kind to teach strategic warfare, and in his speech accepting the command Washington requested that “it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room, that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.” Indeed, he very well described himself and his generals when he wrote of one officer, “his wants are common to us all—the want of experience to move upon a large scale, for the limited and contracted knowledge, which any of us have in military matters, stands in very little stead.” There can be no question that in most of the “field” engagements of the Revolution Washington was out-generalled by the British, and Jefferson made a just distinction when he spoke of his having often “failed in the field, and rarely against an enemy in station, as at Boston and York.”

The lack of great military genius in the commander-in-chief has led British writers to ascribe the results of the war to the want of ability in their own generals, their view being well summed up by a writer in 1778, who said, “in short, I am of the opinion … that any other General in the world than General Howe would have beaten General Washington; and any other General in the world than General Washington would have beaten General Howe.”

This is, in effect, to overlook the true nature of the contest, for it was their very victories that defeated the British. They conquered New Jersey, to meet defeat; they captured Philadelphia, only to find it a danger; they established posts in North Carolina, only to abandon them; they overran Virginia, to lay down their arms at Yorktown. As Washington early in the war divined, the Revolution was “a war of posts,” and he urged the danger of “dividing and subdividing our Force too much [so that] we shall have no one post sufficiently guarded,” saying, “it is a military observation strongly supported by experience, ‘that a superior army may fall a sacrifice to an inferior, by an injudicious division.’” It was exactly this which defeated the British; every conquest they made weakened their force, and the war was not a third through when Washington said, “I am well convinced myself, that the enemy, long ere this, are perfectly well satisfied, that the possession of our towns, while we have an army in the field, will avail them little.” As Franklin said, when the news was announced that Howe had captured Philadelphia, “No, Philadelphia has captured Howe.”

The problem of the Revolution was not one of military strategy, but of keeping an army in existence, and it was in this that the commander-in-chief’s great ability showed itself. The British could and did repeatedly beat the Continental army, but they could not beat the General, and so long as he was in the field there was a rallying ground for whatever fighting spirit there was.

The difficulty of this task can hardly be over-magnified. When Washington assumed command of the forces before Boston, he “found a mixed multitude of people … under very little discipline, order, or government,” and “confusion and disorder reigned in every department, which, in a little time, must have ended either in the separation of the army or fatal contests with one another.” Before he was well in the saddle his general officers were quarrelling over rank, and resigning; there was such a scarcity of powder that it was out of the question for some months to do anything; and the British sent people infected with small-pox to the Continental army, with a consequent outbreak of that pest.

Hardly had he brought order out of chaos when the army he had taken such pains to discipline began to melt away, having been by political folly recruited for short terms, and the work was to be all done over. Again and again during the war regiments which had been enlisted for short periods left him at the most critical moment. Very typical occurrences he himself tells of, when Connecticut troops could “not be prevailed upon to stay longer than their term (saving those who have enlisted for the next campaign, and mostly on furlough), and such a dirty, mercenary spirit pervades the whole, that I should not be at all surprised at any disaster that may happen,” and when he described how in his retreat through New Jersey, “The militia, instead of calling forth their utmost efforts to a brave and manly opposition in order to repair our losses, are dismayed, intractable, and impatient to return. Great numbers of them have gone off; in some instances, almost by whole regiments, by half ones, and by companies at a time.” Another instance of this evil occurred when “the Continental regiments from the eastern governments … agreed to stay six weeks beyond their term of enlistment…. For this extraordinary mark of their attachment to their country, I have agreed to give them a bounty of ten dollars per man, besides their pay running on.” The men took the bounty, and nearly one-half went off a few days after.

Nor was this the only evil of the policy of short enlistments. Another was that the new troops not merely were green soldiers, but were without discipline. At New York Tilghman wrote that after the battle of Brooklyn the “Eastern” soldiers were “plundering everything that comes in their way,” and Washington in describing the condition said, “every Hour brings the most distressing complaints of the Ravages of our own Troops who are become infinitely more formidable to the poor Farmers and Inhabitants than the common Enemy. Horses are taken out of the Continental Teams; the Baggage of Officers and the Hospital Stores, even the Quarters of General Officers are not exempt from Rapine.” At the most critical moment of the war the New Jersey militia not merely deserted, but captured and took with them nearly the whole stores of the army. As the General truly wrote, “the Dependence which the Congress have placed upon the militia, has already greatly injured, and I fear will totally ruin our cause. Being subject to no controul themselves, they introduce disorder among the troops, whom you have attempted to discipline, while the change in their living brings on sickness; this makes them Impatient to get home, which spreads universally, and introduces abominable desertions.” “The collecting militia,” he said elsewhere, “depends entirely upon the prospects of the day. If favorable they throng in to you; if not, they will not move.”

To make matters worse, politics were allowed to play a prominent part in the selection of officers, and Washington complained that “the different States [were], without regard to the qualifications of an officer, quarrelling about the appointments, and nominating such as are not fit to be shoeblacks, from the attachments of this or that member of Assembly.” As a result, so he wrote of New England, “their officers are generally of the lowest class of the people; and, instead of setting a good example to their men, are leading them into every kind of mischief, one species of which is plundering the inhabitants, under the pretence of their being Tories.” To this political motive he himself would not yield, and a sample of his appointments was given when a man was named “because he stands unconnected with either of these Governments; or with this, or that or tother man; for between you and me there is more in this than you can easily imagine,” and he asserted that “I will not have any Gentn. introduced from family connexion, or local attachments, to the prejudice of the Service.”

To misbehaving soldiers Washington showed little mercy. In his first service he had deserters and plunderers “flogged,” and threatened that if he could “lay hands” on one particular culprit, “I would try the effect of 1000 lashes.” At another time he had “a Gallows near 40 feet high erected (which has terrified the rest exceedingly) and I am determined if I can be justified in the proceeding, to hang two or three on it, as an example to others.” When he took command of the Continental army he “made a pretty good slam among such kind of officers as the Massachusetts Government abound in since I came to this Camp, having broke one Colo, and two Captains for cowardly behavior in the action on Bunker’s Hill,—two Captains for drawing more provisions and pay than they had men in their Company—and one for being absent from his Post when the Enemy appeared there and burnt a House just by it Besides these, I have at this time—one Colo., one Major, one Captn., & two subalterns under arrest for tryal—In short I spare none yet fear it will not at all do as these People seem to be too inattentive to every thing but their Interest” “I am sorry,” he wrote, “to be under a Necessity of making frequent Examples among the Officers,” but “as nothing can be more fatal to an Army, than Crimes of this kind, I am determined by every Motive of Reward and Punishment to prevent them in future.” Even when plundering was avoided there were short commons for those who clung to the General. The commander-in-chief wrote Congress that “they have often, very often, been reduced to the necessity of Eating Salt Porke, or Beef not for a day, or a week but months together without Vegetables, or money to buy them;” and again, he complained that “the Soldiers [were forced to] eat every kind of horse food but Hay. Buckwheat, common wheat, Rye and Indn. Corn was the composition of the Meal which made their bread. As an Army they bore it, [but] accompanied by the want of Cloaths, Blankets, &c., will produce frequent desertions in all armies and so it happens with us, tho’ it did not excite a mutiny.” Even the horses suffered, and Washington wrote to the quartermaster-general, “Sir, my horses I am told have not had a mouthful of long or short forage for three days. They have eaten up their mangers and are now, (though wanted for immediate use,) scarcely able to stand.”

Two results were sickness and discontent. At times one-fourth of the soldiers were on the sick-list. Three times portions of the army mutinied, and nothing but Washington’s influence prevented the disorder from spreading. At the end of the war, when, according to Hamilton, “the army had secretly determined not to lay down their arms until due provision and a satisfactory prospect should be offered on the subject of their pay,” the commander-in-chief urged Congress to do them justice, writing, “the fortitude—the long, & great suffering of this army is unexampled in history; but there is an end to all things & I fear we are very near to this. Which, more than probably will oblige me to stick very close to my flock this winter, & try like a careful physician, to prevent, if possible, the disorders getting to an incurable height.” In this he judged rightly, for by his influence alone was the army prevented from adopting other than peaceful measures to secure itself justice.

A chief part of these difficulties the Continental Congress is directly responsible for, and the reason for their conduct is to be found largely in the circumstances of Washington’s appointment to the command.

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When the Second Congress met, in May, 1775, the battle of Lexington had been fought, and twenty thousand minute-men were assembled about Boston. To pay and feed such a horde was wholly beyond the ability of New England, and her delegates came to the Congress bent upon getting that body to assume the expense, or, as the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts naively put it, “we have the greatest Confidence in the Wisdom and Ability of the Continent to support us.”

The other colonies saw this in a different light. Massachusetts, without our advice, has begun a war and embodied an army; let Massachusetts pay her own bills, was their point of view. “I have found this Congress like the last,” wrote John Adams. “When we first came together, I found a strong jealousy of us from New England, and the Massachusettes in particular, suspicions entertained of designs of independency, an American republic, Presbyterian principles, and twenty other things. Our sentiments were heard in Congress with great caution, and seemed to make but little impression.” Yet “every post brought me letters from my friends … urging in pathetic terms the impossibility of keeping their men together without the assistance of Congress.” “I was daily urging all these things, but we were embarrassed with more than one difficulty, not only with the party in favor of the petition to the King, and the party who were zealous of independence, but a third party, which was a southern party against a Northern, and a jealousy against a New England army under the command of a New England General.”

Under these circumstances a political deal was resorted to, and Virginia was offered by John and Samuel Adams, as the price of an adoption and support of the New England army, the appointment of commander-in-chief, though the offer was not made with over-good grace, and only because “we could carry nothing without conceding it.” There was some dissension among the Virginia delegates as to who should receive the appointment, Washington himself recommending an old companion in arms, General Andrew Lewis, and “more than one,” Adams says of the Virginia delegates, were “very cool about the appointment of Washington, and particularly Mr. Pendleton was very clear and full against it” Washington himself said the appointment was due to “partiality of the Congress, joined to a political motive;” and, hard as it is to realize, it was only the grinding political necessity of the New England colonies which secured to Washington the place for which in the light of to-day he seems to have been created.

As a matter of course, there was not the strongest liking felt for the General thus chosen by the New England delegates, and this was steadily lessened by Washington’s frank criticism of the New England soldiers and officers already noticed. Equally bitter to the New England delegates and their allies were certain army measures that Washington pressed upon the attention of Congress. He urged and urged that the troops should be enlisted for the war, that promotions should be made from the army as a whole, and not from the colony- or State-line alone, and most unpopular of all, that since Continental soldiers could not otherwise be obtained, a bounty should be given to secure them, and that as compensation for their inadequate pay half-pay should be given them after the war. He eventually carried these points, but at the price of an entire alienation of the democratic party in the Congress, who wished to have the war fought with militia, to have all the officers elected annually, and to whom the very suggestion of pensions was like a red rag to a bull.

A part of their motive in this was unquestionably to prevent the danger of a standing army, and of allowing the commander-in-chief to become popular with the soldiers. Very early in the war Washington noted “the jealousy which Congress unhappily entertain of the army, and which, if reports are right, some members labor to establish.” And he complained that “I see a distrust and jealousy of military power, that the commander-in-chief has not an opportunity, even by recommendation, to give the least assurance of reward for the most essential services.” The French minister told his government that when a committee was appointed to institute certain army reforms, delegates in Congress “insisted on the danger of associating the Commander-in-chief with it, whose influence, it was stated, was already too great,” and when France sent money to aid the American cause, with the provision that it should be subject to the order of the General, it aroused, a writer states, “the jealousy of Congress, the members of which were not satisfied that the head of the army should possess such an agency in addition to his military power.”

His enemies in the Congress took various means to lessen his influence and mortify him. Burke states that in the discussion of one question “Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and South Carolina voted for expunging it; the four Eastern States, Virginia and Georgia for retaining it. There appeared through this whole debate a great desire, in some of the delegates from the Eastern States, and in one from New Jersey, to insult the General,” and a little later the Congress passed a “resolve which,” according to James Lovell, “was meant to rap a Demi G—over the knuckles.” Nor was it by commission, but as well by omission, that they showed their ill feeling. John Laurens told his father that

“there is a conduct observed towards” the General “by certain great men, which as it is humiliating, must abate his happiness…. The Commander in Chief of this army is not sufficiently informed of all that is known by Congress of European affairs. Is it not a galling circumstance, for him to collect the most important intelligence piecemeal, and as they choose to give it, from gentlemen who come from York? Apart from the chagrin which he must necessarily feel at such an appearance of slight, it should be considered that in order to settle his plan of operations for the ensuing campaign, he should take into view the present state of European affairs, and Congress should not leave him in the dark.”

Furthermore, as already noted, Washington was criticised for his Fabian policy, and in his indignation he wrote to Congress, “I am informed that it is a matter of amazement, and that reflections have been thrown out against this army, for not being more active and enterprising than, in the opinion of some, they ought to have been. If the charge is just, the best way to account for it will be to refer you to the returns of our strength, and those which I can produce of the enemy, and to the enclosed abstract of the clothing now actually wanting for the army.” “I can assure those gentlemen,” he said, in reply to political criticism, “that it is a much easier and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a comfortable room by a good fireside, than to occupy a cold, bleak hill, and sleep under frost and snow, without clothes or blankets.”

The ill feeling did not end with insults. With the defeats of the years 1776 and 1777 it gathered force, and towards the end of the latter year it crystallized in what has been known in history as the Conway Cabal. The story of this conspiracy is so involved in shadow that little is known concerning its adherents or its endeavors. But in a general way it has been discovered that the New England delegates again sought the aid of the Lee faction in Virginia, and that this coalition, with the aid of such votes as they could obtain, schemed several methods which should lessen the influence of Washington, if they did not force him to resign. Separate and detached commands were created, which were made independent of the commander-in-chief, and for this purpose even a scheme which the General called “a child of folly” was undertaken. Officers notoriously inimical to Washington, yet upon whom he would be forced to rely, were promoted. A board of war made up of his enemies, with powers “in effect paramount,” Hamilton says, “to those of the commander-in-chief,” was created It is even asserted that it was moved in Congress that a committee should be appointed to arrest Washington, which was defeated only by the timely arrival of a new delegate, by which the balance of power was lost to the Cabal.

Even with the collapse of the army Cabal the opposition in Congress was maintained. “I am very confident,” wrote General Greene, “that there is party business going on again, and, as Mifflin is connected with it, I doubt not its being a revival of the old scheme;” again writing, “General Schuyler and others consider it a plan of Mifflin’s to injure your Excellency’s operations. I am now fully convinced of the reality of what I suggested to you before I came away.” In 1779 John Sullivan, then a member of Congress, wrote,—

“Permit me to inform your Excellency, that the faction raised against you in 1777, is not yet destroyed. The members are waiting to collect strength, and seize some favorable moment to appear in force. I speak not from conjecture, but from certain knowledge. Their plan is to take every method of proving the danger arising from a commander, who enjoys the full and unlimited confidence of his army, and alarm the people with the prospects of imaginary evils; nay, they will endeavor to convert your virtue into arrows, with which, they will seek to wound you.”

But Washington could not be forced into a resignation, ill-treat and slight him as they would, and at no time were they strong enough to vote him out of office. For once a Congressional “deal” between New England and Virginia did not succeed, and as Washington himself wrote, “I have a good deal of reason to believe that the machination of this junto will recoil on their own heads, and be a means of bringing some matters to light which by getting me out of the way, some of them thought to conceal,” In this he was right, for the re-elections of both Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee were put in danger, and for some time they were discredited even in their own colonies. “I have happily had,” Washington said to a correspondent, “but few differences with those with whom I have had the honor of being connected in the service. With whom, and of what nature these have been, you know. I bore much for the sake of peace and the public good”

As is well known, Washington served without pay during his eight years of command, and, as he said, “fifty thousand pounds would not induce me again to undergo what I have done.” No wonder he declared “that the God of armies may incline the hearts of my American brethren to support the present contest, and bestow sufficient abilities on me to bring it to a speedy and happy conclusion, thereby enabling me to sink into sweet retirement, and the full enjoyment of that peace and happiness, which will accompany a domestic life, is the first wish and most fervent prayer of my soul.”

The day finally came when his work was finished, and he could be, as he phrased it, “translated into a private citizen.” Marshall describes the scene as follows: “At noon, the principal officers of the army assembled at Frances’ tavern; soon after which, their beloved commander entered the room. His emotions were too strong to be concealed. Filling a glass, he turned to them and said, ‘With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you; I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy, as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.’ Having drunk, he added, ‘I cannot come to each of you to take my leave; but shall be obliged to you, if each of you will come and take me by the hand.’ General Knox, being nearest, turned to him. Incapable of utterance, Washington grasped his hand, and embraced him. In the same affectionate manner he took leave of each succeeding officer. In every eye was the tear of dignified sensibility, and not a word was articulated to interrupt the majestic silence, and the tenderness of the scene. Leaving the room, he passed through the corps of light infantry, and walked to Whitehall, where a barge waited to convey him to Powles-hook. The whole company followed in mute and solemn procession, with dejected countenance … Having entered the barge, he turned to the company, and, waving his hat, bade them a silent adieu.”


Washington became a government servant before he became a voter, by receiving in 1749, or when he was seventeen years of age, the appointment of official surveyor of Culpepper County, the salary of which, according to Boucher, was about fifty pounds Virginia currency a year. The office was certainly not a very fat berth, for it required the holder to live in a frontier county, to travel at times, as Washington in his journal noted, over “ye worst Road that ever was trod by Man or Beast,” to sometimes lie on straw, which once “catch’d a Fire,” and we “was luckily Preserved by one of our Mens waking,” sometimes under a tent, which occasionally “was Carried quite of[f] with ye Wind and” we “was obliged to Lie ye Latter part of ye night without covering,” and at other times driven from under the tent by smoke. Indeed, one period of surveying Washington described to a friend by writing,—

“[Since] October Last I have not sleep’d above three Nights or four in a bed but after Walking a good deal all the Day lay down before the fire upon a Little Hay Straw Fodder or bearskin which-ever is to be had with Man Wife and Children like a Parcel of Dogs or Catts & happy’s he that gets the Birth nearest the fire there’s nothing would make it pass of tolerably but a good Reward a Dubbleloon is my constant gain every Day that the Weather will permit my going out and some time Six Pistoles the coldness of the Weather will not allow my making a long stay as the Lodging is rather too cold for the time of Year. I have never had my Cloths of but lay and sleep in them like a Negro except the few Nights I have lay’n in Frederick Town.”

In 1751, when he was nineteen, Washington bettered his lot by becoming adjutant of one of the four military districts of Virginia, with a salary of one hundred pounds and a far less toilsome occupation. This in turn led up to his military appointment in 1754, which he held almost continuously till 1759, when he resigned from the service.

Next to a position on the Virginia council, a seat in the House of Burgesses, or lower branch of the Legislature, was most sought, and this position had been held by Washington’s great-grandfather, father, and elder brother. It was only natural, therefore, that in becoming the head of the family George should desire the position. As early as 1755, while on the frontier, he wrote to his brother in charge of Mount Vernon inquiring about the election to be held in the county, and asking him to “come at Colo Fairfax’s intentions, and let me know whether he purposes to offer himself as a candidate.” “If he does not, I should be glad to take a poll, if I thought my chance tolerably good.” His friend Carlyle, Washington wrote, had “mentioned it to me in Williamsburg in a bantering way,” and he begged his brother to “discover Major Carlyle’s real sentiments on this head,” as also those of the other prominent men of the county, and especially of the clergymen. “Sound their pulse,” he wrote, “with an air of indifference and unconcern … without disclosing much of mine.” “If they seem inclinable to promote my interest, and things should be drawing to a crisis, you may declare my intention and beg their assistance. If on the contrary you find them more inclined to favor some other, I would have the affair entirely dropped.” Apparently the county magnates disapproved, for Washington did not stand for the county.

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In 1757 an election for burgesses was held in Frederick County, in which Washington then was (with his soldiers), and for which he offered himself as a candidate. The act was hardly a wise one, for, though he had saved Winchester and the surrounding country from being overrun by the Indians, he was not popular. Not merely was he held responsible for the massacres of outlying inhabitants, whom it was impossible to protect, but in this very defence he had given cause for ill-feeling. He himself confessed that he had several times “strained the law,”—he had been forced to impress the horses and wagons of the district, and had in other ways so angered some of the people that they had threatened “to blow out my brains.” But he had been guilty of a far worse crime still in a political sense. Virginia elections were based on liquor, and Washington had written to the governor, representing “the great nuisance the number of tippling houses in Winchester are to the soldiers, who by this means, in spite of the utmost care and vigilance, are, so long as their pay holds, incessantly drunk and unfit for service,” and he wished that “the new commission for this county may have the intended effect,” for “the number of tippling houses kept here is a great grievance.” As already noted, the Virginia regiment was accused in the papers of drunkenness, and under the sting of that accusation Washington declared war on the publicans. He whipped his men when they became drunk, kept them away from the ordinaries, and even closed by force one tavern which was especially culpable. “Were it not too tedious,” he wrote the governor, “I cou’d give your Honor such instances of the villainous Behavior of those Tippling House-keepers, as wou’d astonish any person.”

The conduct was admirable, but it was not good politics, and as soon as he offered himself as a candidate, the saloon element, under the leadership of one Lindsay, whose family were tavern-keepers in Winchester for at least one hundred years, united to oppose him. Against the would-be burgess they set up one Captain Thomas Swearingen, whom Washington later described as “a man of great weight among the meaner class of people, and supposed by them to possess extensive knowledge.” As a result, the poll showed Swearingen elected by two hundred and seventy votes, and Washington defeated with but forty ballots.

This sharp experience in practical politics seems to have taught the young candidate a lesson, for when a new election came in 1758 he took a leaf from his enemy’s book, and fought them with their own weapons. The friendly aid of the county boss, Colonel John Wood, was secured, as also that of Gabriel Jones, a man of much local force and popularity. Scarcely less important were the sinews of war employed, told of in the following detailed account. A law at that time stood on the Virginia statutes forbidding all treating or giving of what were called “ticklers” to the voters, and declaring illegal all elections which were thus influenced. None the less, the voters of Frederick enjoyed at Washington’s charge—

40 gallons of Rum Punch @ 3/6 pr. galn7  0  0
15 gallons of Wine @ 10/ pr. galn7  10  0
Dinner for your Friends3  0  0
13½ gallons of Wine @ 10/6  15
3½ pts. of Brandy @ 1/34  4½
13 Galls. Beer @ 1/316  3
8 qts. Cyder Royl @ 1/60  12  0
Punch3 9
30 gallns. of strong beer @ 8d pr. gall1  0
1 hhd & 1 Barrell of Punch, consisting of
          26 gals. best Barbadoes rum, 5/6  10  0
          12 lbs. S. Refd. Sugar 1/618  9
3 galls. and 3 quarts of Beer @ 1/ pr. gall3  9
10 Bowls of Punch @ 2/6 each1  5  0
9 half pints of rum @ 7½ d. each5  7½
1 pint of wine1  6

After the election was over, Washington wrote Wood that “I hope no Exception was taken to any that voted against me, but that all were alike treated, and all had enough. My only fear is that you spent with too sparing a hand.” It is hardly necessary to say that such methods reversed the former election; Washington secured three hundred and ten votes, and Swearingen received forty-five. What is more, so far from now threatening to blow out his brains, there was “a general applause and huzzaing for Colonel Washington.”

From this time until he took command of the army Washington was a burgess. Once again he was elected from Frederick County, and then, in 1765, he stood for Fairfax, in which Mount Vernon was located. Here he received two hundred and eight votes, his colleague getting but one hundred and forty-eight, and in the election of 1768 he received one hundred and eighty-five, and his colleague only one hundred and forty-two. Washington spent between forty and seventy-five pounds at each of these elections, and usually gave a ball to the voters on the night he was chosen. Some of the miscellaneous election expenses noted in his ledger are, “54 gallons of Strong Beer,” “52 Do. of Ale,” “£1.0.0. to Mr. John Muir for his fiddler,” and “For cakes at the Election £7.11.1.”

The first duty which fell to the new burgess was service on a committee to draught a law to prevent hogs from running at large in Winchester. He was very regular in his attendance; and though he took little part in the proceedings, yet in some way he made his influence felt, so that when the time came to elect deputies to the First Congress he stood third in order among the seven appointed to attend that body, and a year later, in the delegation to the Continental Congress, he stood second, Peyton Randolph receiving one more vote only, and all the other delegates less.

This distinction was due to the sound judgment of the man rather than to those qualities that are considered senatorial. Jefferson said, “I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginia before the revolution, and, during it, with Dr. Franklin in Congress. I never heard either of them speak ten minutes at a time, nor to any but the main point which was to decide the question. They laid their shoulders to the great points, knowing that the little ones would follow of themselves.”

Through all his life Washington was no speechmaker. In 1758, by an order of the Assembly, Speaker Robinson was directed to return its thanks to Colonel Washington, on behalf of the colony, for the distinguished military services which he had rendered to the country. As soon as he took his seat in the House, the Speaker performed this duty in such glowing terms as quite overwhelmed him. Washington rose to express his acknowledgments for the honor, but was so disconcerted as to be unable to articulate a word distinctly. He blushed and faltered for a moment, when the Speaker relieved him from his embarrassment by saying, “Sit down, Mr. Washington, your modesty equals your valor, and that surpasses the power of any language that I possess.”

This stage-fright seems to have clung to him. When Adams hinted that Congress should “appoint a General,” and added, “I had no hesitation to declare that I had but one gentleman in my mind for that important command, and that was a gentleman whose skill and experience as an officer, whose independent fortune, great talents, and excellent universal character, would command the approbation of all America, and unite the cordial exertions of all the Colonies better than any other person in the Union,” he relates that “Mr. Washington who happened to sit near the door, as soon as he heard me allude to him, from his usual modesty, darted into the library-room.”

So, too, at his inauguration as President, Maclay noted that “this great man was agitated and embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket. He trembled, and several times could scarce make out to read [his speech], though it must be supposed he had often read it before,” and Fisher Ames wrote, “He addressed the two Houses in the Senate-chamber; it was a very touching scene and quite of a solemn kind. His aspect grave, almost to sadness; his modesty actually shaking; his voice deep, a little tremulous, and so low as to call for close attention,”

There can be little doubt that this non-speech-making ability was not merely the result of inaptitude, but was also a principle, for when his favorite nephew was elected a burgess, and made a well-thought-of speech in his first attempt, his uncle wrote him, “You have, I find, broke the ice. The only advice I will offer to you on the occasion (if you have a mind to command the attention of the House,) is to speak seldom, but to important subjects, except such as particularly relate to your constituents; and, in the former case, make yourself perfectly master of the subject. Never exceed a decent warmth, and submit your sentiments with diffidence. A dictatorial stile, though it may carry conviction, is always accompanied with disgust.” To a friend writing of this same speech he said, “with great pleasure I received the information respecting the commencement of my nephew’s political course. I hope he will not be so bouyed by the favorable impression it has made, as to become a babbler.”

Even more indicative of his own conceptions of senatorial conduct is advice given in a letter to Jack Custis, when the latter, too, achieved an election to the Assembly.

“I do not suppose,” he wrote, “that so young a senator as you are, little versed in political disquisitions, can yet have much influence in a populous assembly, composed of Gentln. of various talents and of different views. But it is in your power to be punctual in your attendance (and duty to the trust reposed in you exacts it of you), to hear dispassionately and determine coolly all great questions. To be disgusted at the decision of questions, because they are not consonant to your own ideas, and to withdraw ourselves from public assemblies, or to neglect our attendance at them, upon suspicion that there is a party formed, who are inimical to our cause, and to the true interest of our country, is wrong, because these things may originate in a difference of opinion; but, supposing the fact is otherwise, and that our suspicions are well founded, it is the indispensable duty of every patriot to counteract them by the most steady and uniform opposition.”

In the Continental Congress, Randolph states, “Washington was prominent, though silent. His looks bespoke a mind absorbed in meditation on his country’s fate; but a positive concert between him and Henry could not more effectually have exhibited him to view, than when Henry ridiculed the idea of peace ‘when there was no peace,’ and enlarged on the duty of preparing for war.” Very quickly his attendance on that body was ended by its appointing him general.

His political relations to the Congress have been touched upon elsewhere, but his attitude towards Great Britain is worth attention. Very early he had said, “At a time when our lordly masters in Great Britain will be satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American freedom, it seems highly necessary that something should be done to avert the stroke, and maintain the liberty, which we have derived from our ancestors. But the manner of doing it, to answer the purpose effectually, is the point in question. That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment, to use a—s in defence of so valuable a blessing, on which all the good and evil of life depends, is clearly my opinion.” When actual war ensued, he was among the first to begin to collect and drill a force, even while he wrote, “unhappy it is, though to reflect, that a brother’s sword has been sheathed in a brother’s breast, and that the once happy and peaceful plains of America are either to be drenched with blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?”

Not till early in 1776 did he become a convert to independence, and then only by such “flaming arguments as were exhibited at Falmouth and Norfolk,” which had been burned by the British. At one time, in 1776, he thought “the game will be pretty well up,” but “under a full persuasion of the justice of our cause, I cannot entertain an Idea, that it will finally sink, tho’ it may remain for some time under a cloud,” and even in this time of terrible discouragement he maintained that “nothing short of independence, it appears to me, can possibly do. A peace on other terms would, if I may be allowed the expression, be a peace of war.”

Pickering, who placed a low estimate on his military ability, said that, “upon the whole, I have no hesitation in saying that General Washington’s talents were much better adapted to the Presidency of the United States than to the command of their armies,” and this is probably true. The diplomatist Thornton said of the President, that if his “circumspection is accompanied by discernment and penetration, as I am informed it is, and as I should be inclined to believe from the judicious choice he has generally made of persons to fill public stations, he possesses the two great requisites of a statesman, the faculty of concealing his own sentiments and of discovering those of other men.”

To follow his course while President is outside of the scope of this work, but a few facts are worth noting. Allusion has already been made to his use of the appointing power, but how clearly he held it as a “public trust” is shown in a letter to his longtime friend Benjamin Harrison, who asked him for an office. “I will go to the chair,” he replied, “under no pre-engagement of any kind or nature whatsoever. But, when in it, to the best of my judgment, discharge the duties of the office with that impartiality and zeal for the public good, which ought never to suffer connection of blood or friendship to intermingle so as to have the least sway on the decision of a public nature.” This position was held to firmly. John Adams wrote an office-seeker, “I must caution you, my dear Sir, against having any dependence on my influence or that of any other person. No man, I believe, has influence with the President. He seeks information from all quarters, and judges more independently than any man I ever knew. It is of so much importance to the public that he should preserve this superiority, that I hope I shall never see the time that any man will have influence with him beyond the powers of reason and argument.”

Long after, when political strife was running high, Adams said, “Washington appointed a multitude of democrats and jacobins of the deepest die. I have been more cautious in this respect; but there is danger of proscribing under imputations of democracy, some of the ablest, most influential, and best characters in the Union.” In this he was quite correct, for the first President’s appointments were made with a view to destroy party and not create it, his object being to gather all the talent of the country in support of the national government, and he bore many things which personally were disagreeable in an endeavor to do this.

Twice during Washington’s terms he was forced to act counter to the public sentiment. The first time was when a strenuous attempt was made by the French minister to break through the neutrality that had been proclaimed, when, according to John Adams, “ten thousand people in the streets of Philadelphia, day after day, threatened to drag Washington out of his house, and effect a revolution in the government, or compel it to declare in favor of the French revolution and against England.” The second time was when he signed the treaty of 1795 with Great Britain, which produced a popular outburst from one end of the country to the other. In neither case did Washington swerve an iota from what he thought right, writing, “these are unpleasant things, but they must be met with firmness.” Eventually the people always came back to their leader, and Jefferson sighed over the fact that “such is the popularity of the President that the people will support him in whatever he will do or will not do, without appealing to their own reason or to anything but their feelings towards him.”

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It is not to be supposed from this that Washington was above considering the popular bent, or was lacking in political astuteness. John Adams asserted that “General Washington, one of the most attentive men in the world to the manner of doing things, owed a great proportion of his celebrity to this circumstance,” and frequently he is to be found considering the popularity or expediency of courses. In 1776 he said, “I have found it of importance and highly expedient to yield to many points in fact, without seeming to have done it, and this to avoid bringing on a too frequent discussion of matters which in a political view ought to be kept a little behind the curtain, and not to be made too much the subjects of disquisition. Time only can eradicate and overcome customs and prejudices of long standing—they must be got the better of by slow and gradual advances.”

Elsewhere he wrote, “In a word, if a man cannot act in all respects as he would wish, he must do what appears best, under the circumstances he is in. This I aim at, however short I may fall of the end;” of a certain measure he thought, “it has, however, like many other things in which I have been involved, two edges, neither of which can be avoided without falling on the other;” and that even in small things he tried to be politic is shown in his journey through New England, when he accepted an invitation to a large public dinner at Portsmouth, and the next day, being at Exeter, he wrote in his diary, “a jealousy subsists between this town (where the Legislature alternately sits) and Portsmouth; which, had I known it in time, would have made it necessary to have accepted an invitation to a public dinner, but my arrangements having been otherwise made, I could not.”

Nor was Washington entirely lacking in finesse. He offered Patrick Henry a position after having first ascertained in a roundabout manner that it would be refused, and in many other ways showed that he understood good politics. Perhaps the neatest of his dodges was made when the French revolutionist Volney asked him for a general letter of introduction to the American people. This was not, for political and personal reasons, a thing Washington cared to give, yet he did not choose to refuse, so he wrote on a sheet of paper,—

“C. Volney
          needs no recommendation from
                    Geo. Washington.”

There is a very general belief that success in politics and truthfulness are incompatible, yet, as already shown, Washington prospered in politics, and the Rev. Mason L. Weems is authority for the popular statement that at six years of age George could not tell a lie. Whether this was so, or whether Mr. Weems was drawing on his imagination for his facts, it seems probable that Washington partially outgrew the disability in his more mature years.

When trying to win the Indians to the English cause in 1754, Washington in his journal states that he “let the young Indians who were in our camp know that the French wanted to kill the Half King,” a diplomatic statement he hardly believed, which the writer says “had its desired effect,” and which the French editor declared to be an “imposture.” In this same campaign he was forced to sign a capitulation which acknowledged that he had been guilty of assassination, and this raised such a storm in Virginia when it became known that Washington hastened to deny all knowledge of the charge having been contained among the articles, and alleged that it had not been made clear to him when the paper had been translated and read. On the contrary, another officer present at the reading states that he refused to “sign the Capitulation because they charged us with Assasination in it.”

In writing to an Indian agent in 1755, Washington was “greatly enraptured” at hearing of his approach, dwelt upon the man’s “hearty attachment to our glorious Cause” and his “Courage of which I have had very great proofs.” Inclosing a copy of the letter to the governor, Washington said, “the letter savors a little of flattery &c., &c., but this, I hope is justifiable on such an occasion.”

With his London agent there was a little difficulty in 1771, and Washington objected to a letter received “because there is one paragraph in particular in it … which appears to me to contain an implication of my having deviated from the truth.” A more general charge was Charles Lee’s: “I aver that his Excellencies letter was from beginning to the end a most abominable lie.”

As a ruse de guerre Washington drew up for a spy in 1779 a series of false statements as to the position and number of his army for him to report to the British. And in preparation for the campaign of 1781 “much trouble was taken and finesse used to misguide and bewilder Sir Henry Clinton by making a deceptive provision of ovens, forage and boats in his neighborhood.” “Nor were less pains taken to deceive our own army,” and even “the highest military as well as civil officers” were deceived at this time, not merely that the secret should not leak out, but also “for the important purpose of inducing the eastern and middle states to make greater exertions.”

When travelling through the South in 1791, Washington entered in his diary, “Having suffered very much by the dust yesterday—and finding that parties of Horse, & a number of other Gentlemen were intending to attend me part of the way to-day, I caused their enquiries respecting the time of my setting out, to be answered that, I should endeavor to do it before eight o’clock; but I did it a little after five, by which means I avoided the inconveniences above mentioned.”

Weld, in his “Travels in America,” published that “General Washington told me that he never was so much annoyed by the mosquitos in any part of America as in Skenesborough, for that they used to bite through the thickest boot.” When this anecdote appeared in print, good old Dr. Dwight, shocked at the taradiddle, and fearing its evil influence on Washington’s fame, spoiled the joke by explaining in a book that “a gentleman of great respectability, who was present when General Washington made the observation referred to, told me that he said, when describing those mosquitoes to Mr. Weld, that they ‘bit through his stockings above the boots.’” Whoever invented the explanation should also have evolved a type of boots other than those worn by Washington, for unfortunately for the story Washington’s military boots went above his “small clothes,” giving not even an inch of stocking for either mosquito or explanation. In 1786, Washington declared that “I do not recollect that in the course of my life, I ever forfeited my word, or broke a promise made to any one,” and at another time he wrote, “I never say any thing of a Man that I have the smallest scruple of saying to him.”

From 1749 till 1784, and from 1789 till 1797, or a period of forty years, Washington filled offices of one kind or another, and when he died he still held a commission. Thus, excluding his boyhood, there were but seven years of his life in which he was not engaged in the public service. Even after his retirement from the Presidency he served on a grand jury, and before this he had several times acted as petit juror. In another way he was a good citizen, for when at Mount Vernon he invariably attended the election, rain or shine, though it was a ride of ten miles to the polling town.

Both his enemies and his friends bore evidence to his honesty. Jefferson said, “his integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity or friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was indeed in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.” Pickering wrote that “to the excellency of his virtues I am not disposed to set any limits. All his views were upright, all his actions just” Hamilton asserted that “the General is a very honest Man;” and Tilghman spoke of him as “the honestest man that I believe ever adorned human nature.”


ADAMS, John, opinion of Washington, use of appointing power,
deal arranged by,
dislike of Washington,

——, Samuel, opposed to Washington,

Agriculture, Washington’s fondness for,
Ague, Washington’s attacks of,


Alexandria, assemblies at,
Washington builds in,
lots in,


Alton, John,

Ames, Fisher, quoted,

Appleby school,

ARMSTRONG, John, quoted,


Asses, breeding of,


BACHE, B.F., writes against Washington,

BALLS, maternal ancestors of Washington,


Bank-stock, holdings of,

Barbadoes, Washington’s visit to,

BARD, Dr., quoted,

BASSETT, Burwell,

——, Frances,

Bath, Virginia, lots in,

Battle of Brooklyn, a farce,


BISHOP, Thomas,

BLAND, Mary,

——, T., criticises Washington’s bow,



Boston, siege of,

BOUCHER, Rev. J., quoted,


BRADDOCK, Edward, Washington and, defeat of,
march of,

Brasenose College, Lawrence Washington a fellow of,

BRISSOT de Warville, quoted,

British forgeries,

Brixted Parva, Lawrence Washington rector of,

BROGLIE, Prince de, quoted,

Brooklyn, battle of,

CALLENDER, James Thomson, publications of,

CALVERT, Eleanor, marriage with Jack Custis,
visit to Cambridge,

Cambridge, head-quarters at,

CAMPBELL, A., portrait of Washington by,

Cancer, George Washington’s,
Mary Washington’s,

Capital. See Washington City.


CARLYLE, Washington’s friendship for,

——, Major,

——, Sally,

CARROLL, Charles,

CARY, Mary,



Charity, Washington’s,

Charleston, ladies of, visit Washington,
jackass at,

CHASTELLUX, Marquis de, quoted,
marriage of,

Children and Washington,

Christ Church,

Christianity, Washington’s view of,

CLARK, Abraham, opinion of Washington,

CLINTON, George, Washington’s investment with,

——, Sir H.,
Washington’s relations with,

Clothes, Washington’s taste in,

Clubs, Washington’s share in,

COBB, David, quoted,
at Yorktown,

COBBETT, William, quoted,

Colds, Washington’s treatment of,


Congress, Continental, Washington’s relations with,
jealousy of Washington and the army,
endeavors to insult Washington,
part in the Conway cabal,
Washington’s election to,
Washington in,

Connecticut troops, misconduct of,

“Conotocarius,” Indian name for Washington,

Continental army,
sickness of,
farewell to,
small-pox in,
threatened mutiny of,

Conway Cabal,

CONWAY, Thomas, Washington’s relations with,

CORBIN, Richard,

CORNWALLIS, Lord, Washington’s relations with,

Craigie house,

CRAIK, Dr. James, Washington’s friendship for,
bleeds Washington,


Culpeper County,

CUSTIS, Eleanor P.,
marriage to L. Lewis,

——, G.W.P., education,

——, John Parke, relations with Washington,

——, Martha. See Washington, Martha.

——, Martha (“Patsy”), relations of Washington with,
treatment of,

—— property,

Dancing, Washington’s fondness of,

DANDRIDGE, Bartholomew,

——, Martha. See Washington, Martha.

——, Mrs.

DEANE, Silas, quoted,

DE BUTTS, Lawrence,

Democratic criticism of Washington,

DENT, Elizabeth,

DICK, Dr., quoted,

Dismal Swamp Company,

Distillery at Mount Vernon,

District of Columbia,


DUANE, William, writes against Washington,

Duelling, Washington’s views on,

DUER, W.A., quoted,

DUMAS, M., quoted,

DUNLAP, W., quoted,

Duquesne, Fort,


Exeter, Bishop of, Sermons,


——, Bryan, Lord,

——, George William,

——, Sally, 90-1,

——, Thomas, Lord,

——, William,

Fairfax County,

Fairfax Parish,

Farewell Address,
drafting of,

Fauntleroy, Betsy,

Federal city. See Washington City.

Fees, Washington’s gifts of,

Fertilization, Washington’s value of,

Fish, Washington’s fondness of,

Fishery at Mount Vernon,


Flour, Washington’s pride in his,

Forged letters,
authorship of,
Bache reprints,

Fort Necessity,

Fox hunting,

FRANKLIN, B., quoted,

Frederick County, Washington stands for,

residence of Mary Washington,

French and Indian War,

French language, Washington on,

FRENEAU, P., writes against Washington,

GAGE, Thomas, relations with Washington,

GATES, Horatio, Washington’s relations with,

General orders, quotations from,

Genet episode,

GENN, James, Washington learns surveying from,

Germantown, battle of,

GERRY, Elbridge, attitude towards Washington,

GIBBONS, Mary, scandal concerning,

GORDON, Rev. W., quoted,

Great Britain, Washington’s attitude towards,

GREEN, Rev. Charles,

GREENE, N., friendship with Washington,



HAMILTON, A., mentioned,
Washington’s relations with,

HARRISON, Benjamin,
letter of,
asks office,

——, R.H.,

HENRY Eighth grants lands to Washingtons,

HENRY, Patrick, quoted,
offered office,

Herring, sales of,

Hickey plot,

Horses, stud at Mount Vernon,

Houdon bust,

HOWE, Lord, and Sir William, Washington’s relations with,

Humphreys, D., quoted,
relations with Washington,

HUNTER, J., quoted,


Independence, Washington on,

Washington’s diplomacy with,

James River Land Company, Washington’s interest in,

Jay treaty,

JEFFERSON, Thomas, Washington’s relations with,
opinion of Washington,
helps Freneau,

JONES, Gabriel,

Kenmore House,

KNOX, Henry,
relations with Washington,

LAFAYETTE, Marquis de,
Washington’s relations with,

——, G.W.,

——, Virginia,

Land bounties,

—— companies,

Latin, Washington’s knowledge of,

LAURENS, John, Washington’s relations with,

LAWRENCE, Nathaniel, quoted,

Lawsuits, Washington’s dislike of,

LEAR, T., friendship for,

LEE, Charles, Washington’s relations with,
libels Washington,

——, Henry, friendship for Washington,
anecdote of,
warns Washington of Jefferson’s conduct,

——, R.H., opinion of Washington,
re-election of,

——, William, Washington’s body-servant,

LEWIS, Elizabeth,

——, Fielding,

——, ——. Jr.,

——, Howell,

——, Lewis,

——, Robert,

Lexington, battle of,

Liveried servants,

Lotteries, Washington’s liking for,

LOVELL, John, opinion of Washington,
quoted, 288.

“Lowland Beauty,”

LYNCH, Thomas, quoted,

McHENRY, James,

McKNIGHT, Dr. C., quoted,

MACLAY, W., quoted,

MADISON, James, relations with Washington,
drafts papers,


MARSHALL, J., quoted,

MARYE, Rev. T., Washington’s teacher,

MASON, George, quoted,

Massachusetts, difficulties of,
“slam” at officers of,

MASSEY, Rev. Lee, quoted,

Mather’s Young Man’s Companion,

Matrimony, Washington’s views on,

Medical knowledge of Washington,
treatment of last illness,

Medicine, Washington’s aversion to,

MERCER, George, quoted,

MIFFLIN, Thomas, Washington’s relations with,

Military Company of Adventurers,

—— science, books on,
Washington’s knowledge of,

Militia, evils of,

“Minutes of the Trial,” authority of,

Mississippi Company,

Monmouth, battle of,
allusions to,

MORRIS, Gouverneur, quoted,
friendship with,

——, Robert,

——, Roger,

Mount Vernon, boyhood home of Washington,
division of estate by will,
invitation to visit,
history of,
house at,
additions to land,
management of,
absence of Washington from,
system at,
work at,
fishery of,
distillery at,
stud stable of,
live stock of,
profits of,
desire to rent farms of,
Washington’s superintendence of,
Washington’s life at,
slaves at,
overseers of,
British visit to,
hunting at,
shooting at,


MUSE, George, relations with Washington,

Music, Washington’s fondness of,


Nepotism, Washington’s views on,

Newburg, threatened revolt of army at,
New England, opposition to Washington,
jealousy of,
arranges deal,
journey in,
conduct of troops,

New Jersey troops, desertion of,

New York, Washington’s visit to,
borrows money for journey to,
head-quarters at,
warfare at,
Minutes of the Trial in,
proposed attack on,
farewell to army at,
presidential house at,


Nuts, Washington’s fondness for,

Oaths, Washington’s use of,


Ohio, march to,
journey to,

Ohio Company,

Old Soldier,

PAINE, Thomas, relations with Washington,

Paper money, depreciation of,

Pension of Mary Washington,

PEYRONEY, Chevalier,

Philadelphia, visit to,
fever at,
proposed attack on,
capture of,
Presidential house in,
Washington’s attempted purchase near,


PICKERING, Timothy, quoted,

Pohick Church,

Potomac Canal Company,

Presidency, Washington in the,
duties of,
hospitality of,

Privateer, Washington tries to secure share in,

Purleigh, Lawrence Washington, rector of,

Raffles, Washington’s liking for,


RANDOLPH, Edmund, Washington’s relations with,

——, John, forges letters,

REED, Joseph, sends print to Washington,
relations with Washington,

Revolution, Washington’s service in,

ROBIN, Abbé, quoted,

ROBINSON, Beverly,

——, John,


Ross, James, quoted,

“Royal Gift,” jackass,

Rules of civility,

RUSH, Benjamin, anonymous letter of,
Washington’s relations with,


St. Clair’s defeat,

St. Paul’s Church,

SARGENT, J.D., opinion of Washington,

SCOTT, Charles, quoted,

Servants, Washington’s,

Shad, sales of,

Sharpless portrait,

Sheep at Mount Vernon,


Skenesborough, mosquitoes at,

Slavery, Washington’s views on,

Slaves, Washington’s,
carried off by British,
rations of,
thieving by,

Small-pox, Washington’s attack of,

SMITH, Rev. W., quoted,

Southern tour,

Spain, king of, gift of jackass to Washington,


STEARN, Samuel, quoted,


STUART, Gilbert, opinion on Washington’s face,

Stuart portrait,

Stud stable at Mount Vernon,

SULLIVAN, John, quoted,

——, W., quoted,

Sunday, Washington’s observance of,


Taverns, Washington’s view of,

Tea, Washington’s fondness for,

THACHER, Dr. James, quoted,


THORNTON, Edward, quoted,

TILGHMAN, Tench, Washington’s relations with,

Tobacco, Washington’s crop of,

Trenton, battle of,

TRUMBULL, Jonathan, wishes Washington removed,

Truro Parish,

University, National, Washington’s wish for,

Valley Forge,


VARICK, Richard,

VERNON, Admiral E., Mount Vernon named after,

Virginia, social life of,
British invasion of,
land bounties,
agricultural system of,
deal with New England,
Washington’s office-holding in,
estates, Washington’s opinion of,

—— Regiment, drunkenness of,

VOLNEY, C., Washington’s diplomacy with,

WADSWORTH, J., quoted,


Walpole grant,

WANSEY, H., quoted,

Warm Springs, visit to,

WASHINGTON, Augustine,

——, Augustine (Jr.),

——, Bushrod,
letter to,

——, Charles,

——, Elizabeth (Betty). See Fielding.

——, Frances,

——, George, ancestors of,
birth of,
his resemblance to the Balls,
relations with his mother,
his dislike of public recompense,
views on public office,
financial help to relatives,
will of,
views on drinking,
care of Custis property,
adoption of Custis children,
portraits of,
illnesses of,
his last,
medicine, his dislike of,
fall of,
secretaries of,
journal to the Ohio,
farewell address,
church attendance,
Sunday conduct,
love affairs,
Barbadoes, visit to,
Ohio, mission to,
Boston, visit to, (1756)
New York, visit to, (1773)
appointed commander-in-chief,
matrimony, his views on,
forged letters,
agriculture, fondness for,
[agriculture] system,
[agriculture] study of,
coat-of-arms of,
as farmer,
land purchases of,
invents a plow,
property of,
bounty lands of,
investments in land companies,
speculation, liking for,
lotteries, liking for,
raffles, liking for,
interest in Potomac Canal Company,
wealth of,
slaves of,
[slaves] care of,
slavery, views on,
social life,
headquarters life,
ceremony, hatred of,
tea, liking for,
dancing, fondness of,
simple habits,
dress of,
Rules of Civility,
neatness of,
fishing, fondness for,
theatre, fondness for,
library of,
abuse, sensitiveness to,
friendships of,
Indian friends,
[Indian] name,
quarrel of Hamilton with,
children, relations with,
[enemies] duelling and,
drinks toasts,
intrigues against,
attacks on,
liveried servants of,
courage of,
Fabian policy,
rashness of,
indecision of,
lack of military knowledge,
severity to soldiers,
relations with Continental Congress,
New England, dislike of,
farewell to army,
adjutant of Virginia,
stands for Frederick County,
election expenses of,
drafts law,
inability to make speeches,
stage fright,
in the Continental Congress,
attitude towards Great Britain,
popularity of,
diplomacy of,
serves on jury,
attends elections,

——, George Augustine,

——, Harriot,

——, John,

——, John Augustine,

——, Lawrence, Rev. (1st),

——, Lawrence (2d),

——, Lawrence, Major (3d),

——, Lawrence, of Chotanck (4th),

——, Lund,

——, Martha, sickness of,
meets Washington,
Washington’s letters to,
Washington’s fondness for,
housekeeper for,
orthography, 93,
visits to head-quarters,
social life,
dower slaves,
drafts of letters for,

——, Mary (Ball),

——, Mildred,

——, Robert,

——, Samuel,

——, Thornton,

Washington City,

WATSON, Elkanah, quoted,

WAYNE, Anthony, quoted,

Weaving at Mount Vernon,

WEEMS, M.L., quoted,

WELD, Isaac, quoted,

Wheat, Washington’s production of,

Whiskey, distilling of, at Mount Vernon,

WHITE, Rev. W., quoted,

William and Mary College,

lots in,
Washington goes to, for medical advice,

WILLIAMS, William, wishes Washington removed,

WILLING, Ann, quoted,

Winchester, lots in,
election at, 295,

WOLCOTT, Oliver,

WOOD, John,

Yorktown, siege of,